Mindfulness, Reflection, and Executive Function
Earlier this week, Frontiers in Psychology published an article on mindfulness, reflection, and executive function. The study, “Mindfulness Plus Reflection Training: Effects on Executive Function in Early Childhood” was conducted by Dr. Phil Zelazo, Dr. Ann Masten, and Dr. Stephanie Carlson of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and Jessie Forston of Learning Tree Yoga, Minneapolis.
The goal of the study was to assess the impact of an intervention targeting reflection and stress reduction on children’s executive function (EF) skills. Often called the air traffic controller of the mind, EF is the primary skill set required for impulse control. Although EF skills are essential for academic achievement, poverty-related stress interferes with their development, leaving many children unprepared for the transition into school.
Preschool children (N = 218) from two charters schools serving low-income children participated in the study. They were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: Mindfulness + Reflection training; Literacy training; or Business as Usual (BAU).
- Mindfulness + Reflection training involved calming and mindfulness curriculum that provided opportunities for the child to practice reflection in the context of EF-challenging games; 30 sessions over 6 weeks.
- Literacy training involved curriculum designed to develop language and literacy skills primarily in the areas of mathematics, science, and social studies; 30 sessions over 6 weeks.
- BAU involved regular classroom activities.
For all three groups, EF improved over the course of the 6 weeks, which was expected because the preschool period is marked by particularly rapid EF development. However, at a follow up 4 weeks after the sessions ended, the students receiving the Mindfulness + Reflection training significantly outperformed the BAU group.
Rank order of the children was also assessed. The researchers found that children’s ranks increased significantly over time for the Mindfulness + Reflection group, whereas they declined for the BAU group and remained stable for the Literacy group. By the end of the study, the children from the Mindfulness + Reflection group ranked highest in the class, Literacy group children were ranked in the middle, and BAU group children had the lowest ranks.
Overall, the study’s results suggest that teaching mindfulness and reflection is a promising intervention for improving EF in low-income preschool children.