The purpose of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions including mindful movements such as yoga on attention and executive function in children and adolescents. Systematic searches were conducted on five databases (PubMed, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Web of Science, and Scopus). Included studies consisting of randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials with a mindfulness-based intervention were assessed for quality, and relevant data was extracted and collated. Thirteen randomized control trials were identified as meeting inclusion criteria, including mindfulness-based psychological interventions (n = 7), yoga (n = 3), and traditional meditation techniques (n = 2). Studies recruited adolescents or children that were typically developing, diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, orphans, or had reading difficulties, or in correctional schools/institutions. The quality of the 13 studies ranged from low to high based on the PEDro (Physiotherapy Evidence Database) scale with the average score of 6.62 out of the highest possible score of 11 (the higher the score, the higher the quality). Five of the 13 studies found a statistically significant intervention effect for at least one outcome measure of attention or executive function with medium to large effect sizes (0.3–32.03). Mindfulness-based interventions are a promising approach to targeting attention and executive function in children and adolescence, especially with the use of computerized measures as outcome measures. All identified studies included interventions with multiple treatment components, so the effects attributable to mindfulness-based training still remain undetermined. Further quality trials are needed to assess the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions in enhancing attention and executive function in children and adolescents.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Bax, M., Goldstein, M., Rosenbaum, P., Leviton, A., Paneth, N., Dan, B., et al. (2005). Proposed definition and classification of cerebral palsy, April 2005. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 47(08), 571–576. doi:10.1017/S001216220500112X.
Birdee, G. S., Yeh, G. Y., Wayne, P. M., Phillips, R. S., Davis, R. B., & Gardiner, P. (2009). Clinical applications of yoga for the pediatric population: A systematic review. Academic Pediatrics, 9(4), 212–220.e211-219. doi:10.1016/j.acap.2009.04.002.
Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230–241. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bph077.
Blair, C., & Razza, R. P. (2007). Relating effortful control, executive function, and false belief understanding to emerging math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Child Development, 78(2), 647–663.
Bogels, S., Hoogstad, B., van Dun, L., de Schutter, S., & Restifo, K. (2008). Mindfulness training for adolescents with externalizing disorders and their parents. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 36(2), 193–209. doi:10.1017/s1352465808004190.
Britton, W. B., Lepp, N. E., Niles, H. F., Rocha, T., Fisher, N. E., & Gold, J. S. (2014). A randomized controlled pilot trial of classroom-based mindfulness meditation compared to an active control condition in sixth-grade children. Journal of School Psychology, 52(3), 263–278. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2014.03.002.
Brocki, K. C., & Bohlin, G. (2006). Developmental change in the relation between executive functions and symptoms of ADHD and co-occurring behaviour problems. Infant and Child Development, 15(1), 19–40. doi:10.1002/icd.413.
Brühl, B., Döpfner, M., & Lehmkuhl, G. (2000). Der fremdbeurteilungsbogen für hyperkinetische störungen (FBB-HKS)–prävalenz hyperkinetischer störungen im elternurteil und psychometrische kriterien. Kindheit und Entwicklung, 9(2), 115–125.
Bueno, S. T., & Delgado, M. P. (2015). Practicing mindfulness with students of the third year of preschool education. Ensayos-Revista De La Facultad De Educacion De Albacete, 30(2), 85–97 Retrieved from <Go to ISI>://WOS:000372341200007.
Butler, R. W., & Copeland, D. (2002). Attentional processes and their remediation in children treated for cancer: A literature review and the development of a therapeutic approach. Journal of International Neuropsychological Society, 8, 115–124.
Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2012). Attention and self-regulation: a control-theory approach to human behavior. New York: Springer.
Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(3), 449–464. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.11.003.
Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 155–159. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.155.
Cohen, R. A. (2014). The neuropsychology of attention (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.
Collie, A., Darby, D., & Maruff, P. (2001). Computerised cognitive assessment of athletes with sports related head injury. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(5), 297. doi:10.1136/bjsm.35.5.297.
Collie, A., Maruff, P., McStephen, M., & Darby, D. (2003). Psychometric issues associated with computerised neuropsychological assessment of concussed athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 37(6), 556–559.
Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Paul, A., & Dobos, G. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for breast cancer—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Oncology, 19(5), 343–352. doi:10.3747/co.19.1016.
Douglas, V. I. (1972). Stop, look and listen: the problem of sustained attention and impulse control in hyperactive and normal children. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 4(4), 259–282. doi:10.1037/h0082313.
Felver, J. C., Tipsord, J. M., Morris, M. J., Racer, K. H., & Dishion, T. J. (2014). The effects of mindfulness-based intervention on children’s attention regulation. Journal of Attention Disorders. doi:10.1177/1087054714548032.
Flook, L., Smalley, S. L., Kitil, M. J., Galla, B. M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., et al. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26(1), 70–95. doi:10.1080/15377900903379125.
Galantino, M. L., Galbavy, R., & Quinn, L. (2008). Therapeutic effects of yoga for children: a systematic review of the literature. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 20(1), 66–80. doi:10.1097/PEP.0b013e31815f1208.
Gotink, R. A., Chu, P., Busschbach, J. J. V., Benson, H., Fricchione, G. L., & Hunink, M. G. M. (2015). Standardised mindfulness-based interventions in healthcare: an overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs. PloS One, 10(4), e0124344. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0124344.
Haffner, J., Roos, J., Goldstein, N., Parzer, P., & Resch, F. (2006). The effectiveness of body-oriented methods of therapy in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): results of a controlled pilot study. Zeitschrift fur Kinder- Jugendpsychiatrie and Psychotherapie, 34(1), 37–47. doi:10.1024/1422-49184.108.40.206.
Higgins, J. P. T., & Green, S. (Eds.). (2008). Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions. Chichester: The Cochrane Collaboration.
Hughes, C., White, A., Sharpen, J., & Dunn, J. (2000). Antisocial, angry, and unsympathetic: “hard-to-manage” preschoolers’ peer problems and possible cognitive influences. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41(2), 169–179.
Hughes, C., Cutting, A. L., & Dunn, J. (2001). Acting nasty in the face of failure? Longitudinal observations of “hard-to-manage” children playing a rigged competitive game with a friend. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 29(5), 403–416.
Hughes, J. W., Fresco, D. M., Myerscough, R., van Dulmen, M. H., Carlson, L. E., & Josephson, R. (2013). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for prehypertension. Psychosomatic Medicine, 75(8), 721–728. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182a3e4e5.
Jensen, P. S., & Kenny, D. T. (2004). The effects of yoga on the attention and behavior of boys with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Journal of Attention Disorders, 7(4), 205–216.
Joseph, R. M., McGrath, L. M., & Tager-Flusberg, H. (2005). Executive dysfunction and its relation to language ability in verbal school-age children with autism. Developmental Neuropsychology, 27(3), 361–378. doi:10.1207/s15326942dn2703_4.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1991). Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Random House USA Inc..
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bpg016.
Kendall, P. C., & Sheldrick, R. C. (2000). Normative data for normative comparisons. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(5), 767–773. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.68.5.767.
Khoury, B., Sharma, M., Rush, S. E., & Fournier, C. (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: a meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 78(6), 519–528. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009.
Kratter, J. (1983). The use of meditation in the treatment of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University New York). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Lao, S.-A., Kissane, D., & Meadows, G. (2016). Cognitive effects of MBSR/MBCT: a systematic review of neuropsychological outcomes. Consciousness and Cognition, 45, 109–123. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2016.08.017.
Ledesma, D., & Kumano, H. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and cancer: a meta-analysis. Psycho-Oncology, 18(6), 571–579. doi:10.1002/pon.1400.
Leonard, N. R., Jha, A. P., Casarjian, B., Goolsarran, M., Garcia, C., Cleland, C. M., et al. (2013). Mindfulness training improves attentional task performance in incarcerated youth: a group randomized controlled intervention trial. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 792. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00792.
Lezak, M. D. (2012). Neuropsychological assessment (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
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.
Moore, A., Gruber, T., Derose, J., & Malinowski, P. (2012). Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 18. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00018.
Moretti-Altuna, G. (1987). The effects of meditation versus medication in the treatment of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (relaxation training, impulsivity, ritalin) (Doctoral dissertation, St. John's University New York). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Niazi, A. K., & Niazi, S. K. (2011). Mindfulness-based stress reduction: a non-pharmacological approach for chronic illnesses. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 3(1), 20–23. doi:10.4297/najms.2011.320.
Oken, B. S., Salinsky, M. C., & Elsas, S. M. (2006). Vigilance, alertness, or sustained attention: physiological basis and measurement. Clinical Neurophysiology, 117(9), 1885–1901. doi:10.1016/j.clinph.2006.01.017.
Parswani, M. J., Sharma, M. P., & Iyengar, S. S. (2013). Mindfulness-based stress reduction program in coronary heart disease: a randomized control trial. International Journal of Yoga, 6(2), 111–117. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.113405.
Praissman, S. (2008). Mindfulness-based stress reduction: a literature review and clinician's guide. Journal of the American Academy Nurse Practitioners, 20(4), 212–216. doi:10.1111/j.1745-7599.2008.00306.x.
Posner, M. I., & Petersen, S. E. (1990). The attention system of the human brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 13 (1), 25–42.
Purohit, S. P., & Pradhan, B. (2016). Effect of yoga program on executive functions of adolescents dwelling in an orphan home: a randomized controlled study. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 7(1). doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2016.03.001.
Raskin, S. A. (2011). Neuroplasticity and rehabilitation. New York: Guilford Publications, Inc..
Riggs, N. R., Blair, C. B., & Greenberg, M. T. (2004). Concurrent and 2-year longitudinal relations between executive function and the behavior of 1st and 2nd grade children. Child Neuropsychology, 9(4), 267–276.
Rosenberg, M. D., Finn, E. S., Scheinost, D., Papademetris, X., Shen, X., Constable, R. T., & Chun, M. M. (2015). A neuromarker of sustained attention from whole-brain functional connectivity. Nature Neuroscience, 19(1), 165–171.
Rosenzweig, S., Greeson, J. M., Reibel, D. K., Green, J. S., Jasser, S. A., & Beasley, D. (2010). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions: variation in treatment outcomes and role of home meditation practice. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68(1), 29–36. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2009.03.010.
Schmalzl, L., Crane-Godreau, M. A., & Payne, P. (2014). Movement-based embodied contemplative practices: definitions and paradigms. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 205. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00205.
Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Oberle, E., Lawlor, M. S., Abbott, D., Thomson, K., Oberlander, T. F., & Diamond, A. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social-emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: a randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, 51(1), 52–66. doi:10.1037/a0038454.
Semple, R. J., Lee, J., Rosa, D., & Miller, L. F. (2010). A randomized trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children: promoting mindful attention to enhance social-emotional resiliency in children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(2), 218–229. doi:10.1007/s10826-009-9301-y.
Sidhu, P. (2013). The efficacy of mindfulness meditation in increasing the attention span in children with ADHD. (Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Francis, A. D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Davis, J. M., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources (mental training affects resource use). PLoS Biology, 5(6), e138. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050138.
Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Nieuwenhuis, S., & Davidson, R. J. (2009). Theta phase synchrony and conscious target perception: impact of intensive mental training. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(8), 1536–1549. doi:10.1162/jocn.2009.21125.
Tannock, R., & Schachar, R. (1996). Executive dysfunction as an underlying mechanism of behavior and language problems in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In J. Beitchman, N. Cohen, M. Konstantareas, & R. Tannock (Eds.), Language, learning, and behavior disorders: developmental, biological, and clinical perspectives (pp. 128–155). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Telles, S., Singh, N., Bhardwaj, A. K., Kumar, A., & Balkrishna, A. (2013). Effect of yoga or physical exercise on physical, cognitive and emotional measures in children: a randomized controlled trial. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 7. doi:10.1186/1753-2000-7-37.
Vanhala, T., Surakka, V., Siirtola, H., & Räihä, K. J. (2006). Psychophysiological measures for estimating attention. Report of the AtGentive project. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266582372_Psychophysiological_measures_for_estimating_attention
Verma, I. C., Jayashankarappa, B. S., & Palani, M. (1982). Effect of transcendental meditation on the performance of some cognitive psychological tests. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 76, 136–143.
First author (CM) is a PhD scholar funded by the University of Queensland Research Scholarship. This work was also supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council postdoctoral fellowship (KW, grant number 631712), a National Health and Medical Research Council Research Fellowship (RB, grant number 1105038), and Merchant Charitable Foundation through Children’s Health Queensland.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Mak, C., Whittingham, K., Cunnington, R. et al. Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Attention and Executive Function in Children and Adolescents—a Systematic Review. Mindfulness 9, 59–78 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0770-6
- Executive function