By Collin Aimone
Everyone has had the issue of being stressed and has experienced trouble when trying to focus. A lot of times this is seen in school as the regular pressures of a learning environment can weigh heavy on the student. The amount of stress a student may endure can sometimes go unnoticed, and this stress soon leads to trouble focusing which in return can lead to falling grades. It has most likely been presented to all of us before as a solution to our problems, meditating, but of course we would not take the time to sit in our rooms and cross our legs and find our happy place. However, studies have shown that meditation can induce a physiological state of momentary deep rest, which has shown proof of lowering stress levels and helping individuals focus better.
A study was conducted in Italy by Copolla and Spector that contained 31 independent volunteers. The study would measure their claim that just 15 minutes twice a day of meditation would significantly lower stress levels. Participants were given a questionnaire that would determine levels of stress (STAI questionnaire). The study would analyze the difference in stress level measurements from week 0 to week 4. The questionnaire would be given to participants on 3 different occasions. The first time was one week before instruction in natural stress relief (NSR) Meditation (Week -1), the second time immediately prior to instruction (Week 0), and the third time after four weeks of regular practice (Week 4). The results were as followed; “Supposing that the real effect size of STAI score reduction is .70, and fixing alpha = .05, at least 30 subjects are required to reach a statistical power greater than .95 (1). Participants in this experiment totaled 31” (1). Their results showed that 15 minutes of meditation twice a day has the ability to reduce stress levels as predicted.
Another study was conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. While Dr. Hoge specializes in treating patients with stress and anxiety disorders on a more professional setting, she marks her conditions in her patients by “hard to control-worries, poor sleep, and irritability” (2). These are conditions that can be seen in students and can generally be self-diagnosed. Her study consisted of two groups, a control group that would receive similar amounts of treatment but by means of other practices not including meditation. While the other group, simply called the meditation group, would practice nothing but that. Treatment time was the same for both groups. Her results showed that the meditation group had recorded more noticeable changes in their stress levels than the control group. While the control group had positive results as well, they were not the same as the meditation group.
Similar to the previous study, Gotink and Meijboom put together an 8-week mindfulness stress reduction study that would measure brain activity of the prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex, the insula and the hippocampus. Stress inducing situations would come in waves to the participants while their brain activity would be assessed. Some aggravated state participants would then go through the mindfulness stress reduction process while brain activity would still be recorded. “Demonstrable functional and structural changes in the prefrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, insula and hippocampus are similar to changes described in studies on traditional meditation practice” (4). When meditation was utilized it showed positive results in lowering emotional functions of the brain which would stand as empirical evidence that meditation has a neurological effect on the brain and can help reduce stress.
A study was conducted by Jensen, Vangkilde, Frokjaer and Hasselbalch that was used to determine if mindfulness training such as meditation is helpful in being able to focus and or stay focused, or if attention is all simply based on effort. No study had ever been conducted like this one before. The study would consist of incentive and non-incentive groups. In a blind design, 48 young healthy people were assigned to the different groups. The tests they would partake in would measure each groups attentional performance. The mindfulness based stress reduction group or non-incentive group would be tested pre- and post-intervention to see if meditation would have an effect on attention performance. This testing would allow the researchers to determine if meditation can actually play a role in aiding people that may experience attention issues. The incentive group would be offered a financial reward to complete the tests at a high enough or fast enough level. This was to see if the financial incentive would make the participants try harder at the task at hand. “Attentional effects of mindfulness based stress reduction and, non-mindfulness stress reduction were comparable or significantly larger in the incentive group on all reaction-time-based measure. However, selective attention in the mindfulness stress group improved significantly more than in any other group” (3). Also, when stress levels were recorded, only the non-incentive group showed signs of a relaxed state while also showing promising signs of attention performance, the incentive group on reaction time-based tests did perform better but showed signs of higher levels of stress.
Katherine MacLean lead another study on whether or not meditating can improves one’s ability to focus. Her study consisted of 60 individuals that were split up into two groups. The meditating group would individually be tested in front of a computer and were to click the mouse when they noticed line changes on the screen. This group of 30 would have meditated before taking the test while the control group would perform without any pre-meditating. Her results concluded that meditating before a task that requires concentration allowed the participants to be able to sustain concentration longer and perform better on the tests than that of the control group. Meditation is just like exercise MacLean says, it trains the brain as if gray matter were a bundle of muscles (5).
Studies on meditation have shown that it can help an individual not only bring stress levels down but also allow an individual to focus and sustain that focus. It has proven to be an affective tool that simply is not utilized as thoroughly by people today, but can be a great outlet for someone in any situation that would need to improve on concentration skills or simply relieve some stress.
- Coppola, F., & Spector, D. (2009). Natural Stress Relief Meditation as a tool for reducing anxiety and increasing self-actualization. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 37(3), 307-311.
- Corliss, J. (2017, October 03). Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress. Retrieved December 03, 2017
- Jensen, C. G., Vangkilde, S., Frokjaer, V., & Hasselbalch, S. G. (2012). Mindfulness training affects attention—Or is it attentional effort?. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, 141(1), 106-123.
- Gotink, Meijboom, R., Vernooij, M. W., Smits, M., & Hunink, M. M. (2016). 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review.
- Cloud, J. (2010, August 06). Losing Focus? Studies Say Meditation May Help. December 03, 2017, http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2008914,00.html