The present study will examine the effects of mindfulness meditation (MM) practices on academic performance for current undergraduate students, specifically Focused-Attention (FA) and Open-Monitoring (OM) meditation. This research can provide insight into how specific mental state-training can influence grades. Effective ways to manage attention in exams are attractive for many students and MM has been found to offer students cognitive benefits such as a decrease in mind-wandering (Mrazek, Franklin, Phillips, Baird, & Schooler, 2013) which may allow them to achieve greater academic performance. Our research is valuable in distinguishing between types of MM trainings and their effects on test scores to determine if these practices are an underutilized tool for student success.
Our research hypothesis is that FA meditation will result in better GRE tests scores given that it is expected to reduce participants’ mind-wandering and therefore increase concentration. However, we hypothesize that similar improvements may be seen with OM meditation, as research purports it can improve attentional control as well (Lymeus & Hartig, 2018). The dependent variable will be the GRE analytical writing score (range: 0-6, scoring upward in 0.5 increments). The scale of measurement is interval, given that it is a standardized score. Participants will be assigned one of the experimental conditions prior to taking the GRE and the analytical writing scores will be considered a measure of academic performance. Research Design The independent variable (IV) is MM, which has been operationalized as the practice of FA or OM 30 minutes a day for six weeks. FA meditation is the specific practice of focusing one’s attention on their breath. The idea is to simply experience the sensation of one’s breath without controlling it; when the practitioner becomes distracted they refocus their attention to their breath (Lymeus & Hartig, 2018). OM involves experiencing one’s environment in a holistic sense, and trying to take in everything surrounding them as the moment unfolds. To do this, participants can direct their attention to broad aspects of their experience, such as all the sounds one can hear in the background, or all the sensations that arise in the body from sitting. The IV will be manipulated between groups and have four levels: FA meditation (practiced for 30 minutes a day), OM meditation (practiced for 30 minutes a day), exercise, and journaling (journaling about emotional stress, and/or goals and time management for 30 minutes per day).
The FA condition is expected to increase GRE scores by decreasing mind-wandering, and also by increasing attentional control (Mrazek et al., 2013). The combination of these two factors should help individuals stay on track and focused while taking the examination and is thus expected to produce higher scores in comparison to participants of the exercise and group stress reduction conditions. OM meditation could also yield improvements in GRE judging from research showing improved attentional control Participants and Procedure 40 undergraduate students aged 18-35 from University of Victoria who are planning to take the GRE in December 2018 will be recruited to participate. Each participant will be randomly assigned to one of four conditions: (a) FA, (b) OM, (c) exercise, or (d) journaling (?). Participants in each condition will engage in their assigned activity for 30 minutes each day during the 6 weeks leading up to the GRE test date, with the FA and OM conditions both receiving a 30 minute instructional meditation session at the beginning of the six weeks. Their scores will then be compared using a between-groups design.
This methodology allows for the isolation of the effect of FA and OM on academic performance. As journaling has been shown to improve participation in the classroom (Flinchberg, Moore, Chan & May, 2012), and exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function (Loprinze & Kane, 2015), these will serve as the two comparison conditions. Literature Summary Loprinizi and Kane (2015) studied the effects of different exercise intensities (“intensity” is measured as a percentage range of maximum heart rate) and sedentary behaviour on cognitive function in young adults using a mixed ANOVA design with random assignment. The four conditions were: no exercise (control), light, moderate, or vigorous intensity exercise. Additionally, participants self-reported their time spent in different sedentary behaviours. Cognitive functions (visual attention, task switching, memory, reasoning, concentration, planning, random order of tasks) were measured in a random order by a variety of tasks. The exercise and tasks were completed twice with with a gap week between sessions.
Results showed a statistically significant increase in concentration after moderate intensity exercise, a negative correlation between visual attention and sedentary activity, and a positive correlation between reasoning and Mzarek et al. (2013) hypothesized that mindfulness meditation would increase GRE scores and working memory capacity of university students by improving attentional control. The study compared the scores of a mindfulness group and nutrition class group on a working memory and a GRE reading comprehension task before and after their respective interventions, as well as measuring levels of mind wandering. Mzarek et al. found that the mindfulness group performed better on both the working memory and GRE tasks, and had less mind wandering at all levels. This study provides evidence that focused attention meditation improves the ability to control one’s attention by reduces mind wandering, and can improve one’s working memory capacity and improve scores on the GRE (Mzarek et al., 2013). It also demonstrates that reducing mind wandering may be the mechanism through which meditation improves both GRE scores, and academic performance overall. In a two part study, Lymeus and Hartig (2018) combined the concept of restoration with open monitoring meditation, which they deemed “less effortful” than FA meditation (Lymeus & Hartig, 2018).
Their goal was to see if there would be a difference between OM and FA meditation on attentional control, affect, and executive function. They hypothesized that both groups would get better, but that the OM group would eventually continue to improve because it requires less effort and better renews cognitive resources when done in a natural environment (versus FA, which was conducted inside). The two studies both used a repeated measures ANOVA design, and were very similar except the first one studied participants on attentional control and affect, whereas the second study did the same and also added a measure of executive functioning. Both of the studies found that attentional control increased with both groups, however, both studies showed the OM group improved a bit more while the FA groups performance stagnated. Both groups were slightly more relaxed (with the OM group slightly better again), and in the second study both groups had small increases in executive functioning. These studies give evidence that FA and OM meditations can both improve attentional control, and that OM meditation when done in a natural environment, can give increasing improvements because it requires less focused effort and replenishes one’s cognitive resources when it is done in a “restorative environment” (Lymeus & Hartig, 2018).