The Effectiveness of a Teacher-Delivered Mindfulness-Based Curriculum on Adolescent Social-Emotional and Executive Functioning

Abstract

Objectives

The purpose of this study was to assess the effectiveness of a manualized mindfulness-based program for adolescents, Learning to Breathe (L2B), on indicators of adolescent social-emotional well-being, mental health, substance use, and executive function.

Methods

Participants included 251 high school students attending an urban school district who were randomly assigned to required health education classes that offered L2B or the business-as-usual health curriculum.

Results

No direct effects on self-report measures were found. Students exposed to L2B demonstrated significant improvements on executive functioning measures related to susceptibility to cognitive interference and working memory. Subsequent tests of moderation revealed beneficial program effects within the treatment group were dependent on rates of practice, and those that used L2B strategies regularly showed small-to-moderate improvements on indices of emotional awareness, emotional clarity, impulse control, social connectedness, mind-wandering, substance use, perceived stress, and self-compassion relative to controls.

Conclusions

This study provides mixed support regarding the potential effectiveness of a universal mindfulness program for high school students. The absence of direct effects on self-report measures implies that simply exposing adolescents to a mindfulness curriculum within the context of typical instruction, in the absence of supports for implementation, is unlikely to impact youth socio-emotional well-being or behavior. However, changes in EF favoring the intervention group suggest that possible benefits on tasks related to susceptibility, cognitive interference, and selective attention are possible. Tests of moderation revealed dosage effects, and students who adopt mindfulness practices can indeed benefit on multiple fronts.

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Funding

The project described was supported by Award Number R305A140113 from the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Institute of Educational Sciences or the U. S. Department of Education.

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Authors

Contributions

JF, PB, MG, and DS designed and executed the study, and wrote the paper. YO analyzed study data and summarized results. CG assisted with the design and analysis of executive function measures. JM assisted with recruitment, consent, and data collection. PB and EB assisted with intervention implementation, professional development, and coaching activities. KK, JM, and JL assisted with data collection. RR collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jennifer L. Frank.

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Ethics Approval and Consent to Participate

All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Pennsylvania State University Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

In accordance with ethical obligations, Patricia C. Broderick, developer of Learning to Breathe, is reporting a financial interest that may be affected by the research reported in the enclosed paper. The remaining authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Frank, J.L., Broderick, P.C., Oh, Y. et al. The Effectiveness of a Teacher-Delivered Mindfulness-Based Curriculum on Adolescent Social-Emotional and Executive Functioning. Mindfulness 12, 1234–1251 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-021-01594-9

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Keywords

  • L2B
  • Mindfulness
  • Adolescence
  • Learning to Breathe