Scheduled for 2016, The Wellcome Trust is funding a £6.4m study on the effects meditation has on 3,200 11 to 14 year olds. The 7-year study will examine a cross section of young students from 72 schools in one of the largest studies ever undertaken.
The ancient practice of meditation has been around for over 5,000 years, but detailed scientific study is relatively new, with data only collected over the past few decades. While there are numerous studies that promote the benefits of meditation on physical and mental wellbeing, there are few studies that have monitored its effect over a prolonged period of time.
A collection of neuroscientists and psychologists from University College London and Oxford University will assess the role meditation plays in coping with stress, depression and mental health. Conditions that can often be exacerbated during the radical changes experienced during adolescence.
The pre-frontal cortex is an area of the brain associated with self-control, self-awareness, emotion and behavior. During adolescence the human brain is much more responsive to change and re-organization, an area of science known as neuroplasticity, suggesting that the benefits of regular meditation will be much more pronounced in young students than adults.
A recent review of meditations impact in schools from 15 separate studies and 1,800 students found that meditation reported feelings of greater self-acceptance, a stronger self-identity and generally a more positive outlook on life.
Academically, the report showed that students were less disruptive in class, were able to better concentrate and were faster at processing information.
With students often experiencing social pressures and an expectation to perform well at school, the new research will be closely monitored to understand if meditation can help improve coping mechanisms that will ultimately lead to a reduction in depression, anxiety and stress.
The selected students will undergo numerous computerized tests in conjunction with MRI scans to determine how the brain changes over these formative years and how the practice of meditation effects neural activity.
One of the main obstacles expected during the research will be a student’s perception of meditation. Although the practice has become more widely accepted in popular culture, with a raft of celebrities promoting its virtues, it can still be viewed with raised eyebrows and a sense that it’s “not very cool”.
The research will be closely monitored by policy makers and schools to determine if meditation has a place in the school curriculum. Progressive schools throughout the US and particularly Australia have already introduced meditation to their schools. Data from Meditation Capsules and Smiling Minds, two Australian organizations show that over 7,500 teachers are already using the technique with their students. Quiet areas and group meditations during assembly are just some of the changes being introduced to the more traditional teaching methods.
A detailed longitudinal study has been needed for some time in order to back up the data from smaller studies. The results will be very interesting and hopefully full of promise.
This post was written by Will Williams Meditation. A meditation center based in London providing meditation and relaxation techniques for children.