“Effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on brain functioning and stress reactivity in college students” is the first random assignment study of the effects of meditation practice on brain and physiological functioning in college students.
The study was a collaboration between the American University Department of Psychology in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.
The study investigated the effects of 10 weeks of Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice on “Brain Integration Scale” scores (broadband frontal coherence, power ratios, and preparatory brain responses), electrodermal habituation to a stressful stimulus, and sleepiness in 50 students from American University and other Washington, D.C., area universities.
Physiological and psychological variables were measured at pretest; students were then randomly assigned to a TM or control group. Post-test was 10 weeks later—just before final exam week. At post-test, the meditating students had higher Brain Integration Scale scores, less sleepiness, and faster habituation to a loud tone—they were less jumpy and irritable.
“The pressures of college can be overwhelming—44% of college students binge drink, 37% report use of illegal drugs, 19% report clinical depression, and 13% report high levels of anxiety,” said Fred Travis, lead author and director of the MUM brain research center.
Travis said the data from the nonmeditating control group showed the detrimental effects of college life on the students. “The control group had lower Brain Integration Scale scores, indicating their brain functioning was more fragmented—which can lead to more scattered and disorganized thinking and planning. The controls also showed an increase in sympathetic reactivity and sleepiness, which can correspond to greater anxiety, worry and irritability,” he said.
In contrast, Transcendental Meditation practice appeared to buffer the effects of high stress.
“From pretest to post-test, Brain Integration Scale scores increased significantly, indicating greater breadth of planning, thinking, and perception of the environment. The sympathetic reactivity and sleepiness decreased among the TM group, which corresponds to greater emotional balance and wakefulness.
“These statistically significant results among college students suggest that the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique could be of substantial value for anyone facing an intense and challenging learning/working environment.” Travis said.
Patricia Spurio, one of the students in the TM control group, was carrying a full credit load, had a part-time internship, and helped organize a large rally on campus.
“For me the greatest benefit was being able to have these two 20-minute periods of meditation. I could feel my whole body releasing the stress of the day. When done, I felt rested and ready for more activity. TM helped me get through it all in a more healthy and balanced way.”
The study is published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Psychophysiology.