We predicted that students in a sociology course that included contemplative practices (i.e., mindfulness meditation) would show an increase in performance on higher level cognitive abilities (executive functions) over the semester compared to a control group of students. Change in executive functions performance was not significantly different between the two groups. However, when looking within the meditation group, the time spent meditating predicted the amount of executive function improvement, suggesting that the amount of time spent meditating is strongly related to the level of improvement. This finding provides preliminary support for benefits of meditation for students’ higher level cognitive abilities.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Army Individual Test Battery. (1944). Manual of directions and scoring. Washington DC: War Department, Adjutant General’s Office.
Brefczynski-Lewis, J., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H. S., Levinson, D. B., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(27), 11483–11488. doi:10.1073/pnas.0606552104
Chambers, R., Lo, B. C., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 32(3), 303–322. doi:10.1007?s10608-007-9199-0
Chan, D., & Woollacott, M. (2007). Effects of level of meditation experience on attentional focus: Is the efficiency of executive or orientation networks improved? The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 13(6), 651–657. doi:10.1089/acm.2007.7022
Davidson, R., & Goleman, D. J. (1977). The role of attention in meditation and hypnosis: A psychobiological perspective on transformation of consciousness. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 25(4), 291–308.
Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K., & Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564–570. doi:10.1097/01.PSY.0000077505.67574.E3
Duerr, M. (2004). A powerful silence: The role of meditation and other contemplative practices in American life and work. Northampton, MA: Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.
Duerr, M., Zajonc, A., & Dana, D. (2003). Survey of transformative and spiritual dimensions of higher education. Journal of Transformative Education, 1(3), 177–211. doi:10.1177/1541344603001003002
Gardner, F. L., & Moore, Z. E. (2004). A mindfulness-acceptance-commitment-based approach to athletic performance enhancement: Theoretical considerations. Behavior Therapy, 35(4), 707–723. doi:10.1016/S0005-7894(04)80016-9
Golden, C. J. (1978). The Stroop color and word test: A manual for clinical and experimental uses. Chicago, IL: Stoelting Co.
Golden, C. J., & Freshwater, S. M. (2002). The Stroop color and word test: A manual for clinical and experimental uses. Chicago, IL: Stoelting Co.
Hall, P. D. (1999). The effect of meditation on the academic performance of African American college students. Journal of Black Studies, 29(3), 408–415.
Heeren, A. V., Broeck, N., & Philippot, P. (2009). The effects of mindfulness on executive processes and autobiographical memory specificity. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47(5), 403–409. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.01.017
Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720–724. doi:10.1037/a0013237
James, W. The Principles of Psychology, Vol 1. (1890/1950) New York, NY: Dover.
Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 109–119.
Josefsson, T., & Broberg, A. (2010). Meditators and non-meditators on sustained and executive attentional performance. Mental Health, Religion, & Culture, 1, 1–19. doi:10.1080/13674670903578621
Kortte, K. B., Horner, M. D., & Windham, W. K. (2002). The trail making test, part B: Cognitive flexibility or ability to maintain set? Applied Neuropsychology, 9(2), 106–109.
Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., McGarvey, M., Quinn, B. T., Dusek, J. A., Benson, H., Rauch, S. L., Moore, C. I., & Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport: For Rapid Communication of Neuroscience Research, 16(17), 1893–1897.
Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163–169. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2008.01.005
Miyake, A., Friedman, N. P., Emerson, M. J., Witzki, A. H., et al. (2000). The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive Psychology, 41(1), 49–100. doi:10.1006/cogp.1999.0743
Newberg, A. B., & Iversen, J. (2003). The neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation: Neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations. Medical Hypotheses, 61(2), 282–291. doi:10.1016/S0306-9877(03)00175-0
Pagnoni, G., & Cekic, M. (2007). Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiology of Aging, 28(10), 1623–1627.
Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Astin, J. (2011). Toward the integration of meditation into higher education: A review of research evidence. Teachers College Record, 113(3), 493–528.
Solloway, S. G., & Fisher, W. P. (2007). Mindfulness in measurement: Reconsidering the measurable in mindfulness practice. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 26, 58–81.
Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., Yu, Q., Sui, D., Rothbart, M. K., Fan, M., & Posner, M. I. (2009). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(43), 17152–17156. doi:10.1073/pnas.0707678104
Welsh, M. C., & Pennington, B. F. (1988). Assessing frontal lobe functioning in children: Views from developmental psychology. Developmental Neuropsychology, 4(3), 199–230.
Welsh, M. C. (2002). Developmental and clinical variations in executive functions. In U. Kirk & D. Molfese (Eds.), Developmental variations in language and learning (pp. 139–185). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Zylowska, L., Ackerman, D. L., Yang, M. H., Futrell, J. L., Horton, N. L., Hale, T. S., Pataki, C., & Smalley, S. L. (2007). Mindfulness meditation training in adults and adolescents with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11(6), 737. doi:10.1177/1087054707308502
This research was originally presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Association for the Contemplative Mind in Higher Education and was supported by the Peter and Bette Fishbein Junior Faculty Research Award.
About this article
Cite this article
Helber, C., Zook, N.A. & Immergut, M. Meditation in Higher Education: Does it Enhance Cognition?. Innov High Educ 37, 349–358 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-012-9217-0
- Executive Functions