The first research articles that focused on mindfulness practices were published in the late seventies and early eighties. Since then, there has been an exceptionally rapid progress, in terms of both the amount of publications released, and the advancement of the research methods and designs. The following figure illustrates the number of academic journal articles published including the term “mindfulness” in the title by year. The image was made by the American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA) and is regularly updated at: https://goamra.org/resources/
School-based mindfulness program induces brain changes in children
This is the first study investigating the effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on children’s brain activity. The authors explored whether mindfulness training reduces stress levels in middle school children, and if so, investigating if it is done by inducing changes in the amygdala and its connectivity to a region of the prefrontal cortex.
The stress response is associated with brain activity in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala initiates the fight, flight, or freeze response to fear-inducing stimuli, while the prefrontal cortex helps modulate this response. A higher degree of connectivity between these brain regions is thought to enhance emotional regulation. These conclusions are based on research with adults. Little is known about the neural basis for children’s responses to stress, however, and whether it can be beneficially modified by mindfulness-based interventions.
The study involved 6th graders who were randomly split into the mindfulness group or the computer coding group during the school day for eight weeks. Their brains were scanned before and after the intervention, using fMRI scanning. Scans were analyzed for right amygdala reactivity to fearful facial expressions and amygdala functional connectivity with ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
The study demonstrates the efficacy of a school-based mindfulness program in the purpose of reducing amygdala activation to fear-related stimuli and children’s stress levels. Mindfulness programs that reduce childhood stress may have an important role to play in reducing the incidence of mental health problems in adolescence and adulthood.
Bauer, C. C. C., Caballero, C., Scherer, E., West, M. R., Mrazek, M. D., Phillips, D. T., Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2019). Mindfulness training reduces stress and amygdala reactivity to fearful faces in middle-school children. Behavioral Neuroscience.