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.
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.
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.
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.