Research reveals transcendental meditation reduces emotional stress and improves academics

Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education

Students who participated in a meditation-based Quiet Time program utilizing the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique for four months had significant improvements in overall emotional stress symptoms, quality of sleep, and English Language Arts (ELA) academic achievement according to a new randomized controlled trial published last month in Education. The study was conducted by researchers from the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education and Stanford University. This was the first randomized control trial to investigate the effects of TM on standardized academic tests.

“Students have been experiencing increased levels of stress and it’s impacting their academic performance,” said Laurent Valosek, lead author of the study and Executive Director of the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education. “This research shows the impact of meditation on the mental and physical health of high school students, and shows that meditation plays a vital role in promoting improved academic outcomes, even when compared to more time spent reading.”

Student emotional well-being and its impact on academic outcomes

According to the American Psychological Association, teens report stress well above what they believe to be healthy. 31% of teens report feeling overwhelmed and 36% report feeling fatigued as a result of stress. Over a third of teens report that their stress level has increased in the past year, while around half of teens don’t feel they are doing enough to manage their stress.

This increased stress is linked to poor academics, as well as a number of other measures including lower attendance, and unhealthy behaviors around sleep, eating, and substance use. Stress also increases negative affect, resulting in strained relationships with classmates and teachers, as well as rule infractions and suspensions.

Transcendental Meditation improves emotional balance and academic performance

A new randomized control study published in Education involved 98 ninth grade students at a West Coast public high school. The study found that during a four-month period, the students practicing the TM technique experienced significant improvements in measures of health and academics as compared to students who engaged in sustained silent reading.

These findings are consistent with past research on TM showing benefits related to emotional health and intelligence. This was the first randomized control trial to investigate the effects of a meditation-based school program on standardized tests.

“As a former high school administrator, I have seen first-hand the effects of stress, anxiety, and fatigue on students’ mental and physical well-being. High levels of psychological distress not only lead to lower academic performance, but cause serious consequences for the whole child,” said Margaret Peterson, co-author of the study and Executive Director of the California World Language Project at Stanford Graduate School of Education. “In my 30 years as an educator, Transcendental Meditation is the single, most effective tool to help reduce stress and improve performance in students.”

Within students who were below proficiency at baseline, 69% of the meditation students improved at least one performance level at posttest compared to 33% of the control students. This is particularly noteworthy because the control group was doing sustained silent reading, suggesting that introducing meditation to the school day may be more effective in improving academic outcomes than additional time spent reading.

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