Taking part in brief mindfulness exercises can help university students stay focused during lectures, researchers have claimed.
The authors of a study that found that undergraduates who participated in a three-minute breathing activity at the start of classes reported feeling less distracted and more positive have argued that their findings demonstrate that mindfulness training can benefit learners and does not have to be time-consuming.
Growing numbers of universities around the world have inserted mindfulness training into their curricula in recent years, but debate about the merits of such meditative techniques continues.
Other academics have said that the results of the latest study are unconvincing and have questioned whether the reported benefits can be attributed to the mindfulness intervention.
The latest research was led by Carlin Miller, associate professor of psychology at the University of Windsor in Ontario, who delivered the scripted intervention to 59 third-year students on a child psychopathology course over the duration of a semester. A control group was made up of 29 similar students on a developmental disabilities module.
Based on the results of an end-of-term survey, students in the intervention group said that they were significantly less likely to be distracted in class than their counterparts in the control group. They were also significantly more likely to report positive emotions such as enthusiasm.
There were a number of other areas in which no statistically significant differences were noted, including reports of negative emotions such as distress, and on a self-reported mindfulness scale.
However, 62.3 per cent of survey respondents from the intervention group reported enjoying the intervention, and 31.5 per cent said that they had used the breathing exercise outside class.
A paper describing the study, published in the Journal of Further and Higher Education, says that the results “add to a growing body of evidence that even brief mindfulness exposure has benefits for undergraduate students”.
“Our work…suggests that the appropriately resourced inclusion of mindfulness training in university courses may benefit learners and that mindfulness exposure does not necessarily require time-intensive practices,” the article concludes.
Dr Miller, a neuropsychologist who has been practising mindfulness for two decades, told Times Higher Education that she felt that students arriving at university now were “less prepared” for the transition to campus life and had “fewer coping skills” than their predecessors. Mindfulness, while no “magic bullet”, could be “part” of the solution.
However, Miguel Farias, reader in cognitive and biological psychology at Coventry University, said that he “[didn’t] see this [study] as strong evidence for the benefits of mindfulness in the university classroom”.
“The results weren’t particularly convincing – showing a reduction in negative affect would have been more encouraging than the increase in positive affect, [and] an increase in positive affect is easily achieved by getting a group of people to do an activity in synchrony,” he said. “Less mind-wandering and distractibility can also simply be a consequence of the engagement with a task, not necessarily mindfulness.”