April 10, 2013
For College Freshmen, Meditation Could Assist In Performance
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Too many allow the pressures and stresses of life to consume them, leaving them to feel adrift in a current they cannot control. It would appear this sentiment is no truer for anyone than it is for the college freshman. And there is little doubt as to why. For many this is the first time they have struck out on their own. The overwhelming feeling of sink or swim often results in the former.
Could there be a better way? According to a new experimental study conducted by George Mason University associate professor of psychology Robert Youmans, along with University of Illinois doctoral student and practicing Buddhist Jared Ramsburg, the answer to that question is a qualified yes.
In a series of three classroom experiments at a California university, the team sought to determine if the use of meditative techniques might be beneficial in helping students to attain better focus and achieve a greater overall retention of information.
The researchers randomly selected students to follow basic meditation instructions prior to a lecture while others were selected as a control group with no guidance on meditative techniques. After the lecture a quiz was administered. The control group, it was found, did more poorly on the quiz than the students who engaged in meditation beforehand. In fact, in one experiment, the meditation even predicted which students passed and which students failed the quiz.
Of particular interest, the team noted the effect of the meditation was stronger in classes containing a higher percentage of freshmen students. As they claim, this may show meditation may be more beneficial to members of a freshmen class as courses geared to this class will more likely contain students for whom the benefit of meditative training is greater.
“One difficulty for researchers who study meditation is that the supposed benefits of meditation do not always replicate across different studies or populations, and so we have been trying to figure out why. This data from this study suggest that meditation may help students who might have trouble paying attention or focusing. Sadly, freshmen classes probably contain more of these types of students than senior courses because student populations who have difficulty self-regulating are also more likely to leave the university,” says Youmans.
According to Youmans, the act of self-reflection could yield significant results in these freshmen seminars or in institutions with high attrition rates. With the students of their study receiving only six minutes of written meditation exercises, the improvement achieved was noteworthy. The team contends with more extensive training and coaching of these freshman populations, the results of their study could be improved upon.
“Personally, I have found meditation to be helpful for mental clarity, focus and self-discipline,” says Ramsburg, lead author of the study. “I think that if mindfulness can improve mental clarity, focus and self-discipline, then it might be useful in a variety of settings and for a variety of goals.”
Youmans believes the meditation techniques presented to the students in their study are not the only path these students could take to achieving better academic results. Namely, he offers examples of other forms of active self-reflection such as prayer, taking long walks or even just taking the time to mindfully plan out your day in the morning could have some of the same positive effects as the meditative techniques employed in their study. “Basically, becoming just a little bit more mindful about yourself and your place in the world might have a very important, practical benefit — in this case, doing better in college.”
The results of this study were recently published in the journal Mindfulness.