Mindfulness meditation training is associated with changes in resting-state brain activity, according to new research conducted with elementary school students. The study, published in the Journal of Psychophysiology, provides new insights into why mindfulness meditation could be effective in improving symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“Our interest in the topic primarily resulted from a desire to identify alternative methods for attenuating anxiety and depression during preadolescence, a stage of development where children are particularly susceptible to internalizing symptoms due to increased social demands and a lack of psychological and neurological maturity to effectively cope with such demands,” said study author Nancy Aaron Jones an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University and director of the WAVES Emotion Lab.
“Children in this age-range have traditionally shown less responsiveness to traditional treatments such as medication and talk therapy compared to adults, and therefore we wanted to evaluate the potential of mindfulness meditation intervention in reducing neurological symptoms of anxiety in this age range and serving as a protective factor against later development of disorders.
“A second goal was to further understand the relationship between internalizing behavioral symptoms and resting-state brain activity measures in children of different age-ranges. This knowledge is valuable for understanding how the neurological mechanisms involved in anxiety and depression may fluctuate as a function of age.”
The researchers examined the impact of a mindfulness meditation training program on 66 elementary school students. The mindfulness meditation program occurred in class for 15 minutes once per day for 10 weeks.
The students completed self-reported assessments of depressive symptoms, anxiety, and mood before and after the mindfulness training program. The researchers also recorded the students’ electrical brain activity before and after the program.
Jones and her colleagues found that self-reported depression scores declined after the mindfulness meditation training program. Using electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings, the researchers also found that the program was associated with alterations in brainwave activity.
In particular, they observed increases in EEG alpha wave coherence throughout the entire cortex. The researchers also observed increases in theta, alpha, and beta power in the frontal and central areas of the brain.
“We hope that this study will shed light on the potential of mindfulness meditation to serve as a buffer against anxiety development in children by demonstrating that a daily mindfulness training program significantly altered neurophysiological characteristics that signify risk for anxiety and depression, namely frontal and central power as well as frontal and parietal coherence were increased following the training,” Jones explained to PsyPost.
“In the broader scope, we hope that parents, teachers, and superintendents concerned with the mental health of children recognize the helpfulness of short duration daily exercises for reducing stress, such as physical activity, music/art, or mindfulness meditation.”
However, two common EEG measures linked to anxiety remained largely unchanged.
“A major caveat of this study is that the participants were not formally diagnosed with anxiety or depression and therefore, we can not conclude that the same results would occur with clinical participants,” Jones said.
“In addition, we did not include a control group, which leaves open the possibility that other factors may have led to the reduced neurophysiological risk for anxiety in the preadolescent participants.”
“Additionally, the long-term effects of mindfulness are less well-understood, so future studies should evaluate the effects of mindfulness longitudinally with multiple time points at different stages of development. We feel one possibility is that mindfulness reduces anxiety by increasing cognitive control so it would be interesting to directly test that mediation factor,” Jones explained.
“We hope that this study and others will shed light on the appropriateness and effectiveness of short-duration mindfulness meditation training for school-wide implementation. In addition to lowering anxiety, mindfulness may strengthen cognitive skills that are beneficial for school performance.”
The study, “Mindfulness Meditation Intervention Alters Neurophysiological Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression in Preadolescents“, was authored by Nathaniel A. Shanok, Carol Reive, Krystal D. Mize, and Nancy Aaron Jones.