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Mindfulness training improves attention in children

03 September 2013 British Psychological Society (BPS)

A short training course in mindfulness improves children’s ability to ignore distractions and concentrate better.

These are the findings of a study carried out by Dominic Crehan and Dr Michelle Ellefson at the University of Cambridge being presented today, 6 September 2013, at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference at the University of Reading.

Dominic explained: “Mindfulness involves paying attention in a particular way - on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. It has been shown to reduce levels of stress and depression, and to improve feelings of well-being, but to date researchers have not established a link between mindfulness and attention skills in children.”

The researchers recruited thirty children (girls and boys aged 10 to 11 years old) to take part in a mindfulness course as part of their school curriculum. The children took part in the mindfulness course in two groups at different times, and so the researchers were able to compare the groups and see the effects of the course. To do this, they measured the children’s levels of mindfulness using a questionnaire. They also measured their attention skills, using a computer game designed specifically for this purpose. They made these measurements on three occasions, at three month intervals, so that they could measure changes in attention skills over time as a result of the mindfulness course.

The results indicated that an improvement in the children’s ability to focus and deal with distractions was associated with the mindfulness course.

Dominic said: “The ability to pay attention in class is crucial for success at school. Mindfulness appears to have an effect after only a short training course, which the children thoroughly enjoyed! Through their training, the children actually learn to watch their minds working and learn to control their attention. These findings could be particularly important for helping children with attention difficulties such as ADHD. Further research on the effects of mindfulness on children’s attention is very much needed.”

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