Mindfulness as an essential element of law school curriculum

George, S. (2015). The Cure for the Distracted Mind: Why Law Schools Should Teach Mindfulness. Duquesne University Law Review, 53, 14-23. Full text (click on Download This Paper).

Abstract. Building on scientific evidence that mindfulness meditation can improve attention, learning, working memory capacity, academic achievement, empathy, self-compassion, and creativity, and that it can reduce stress and anxiety, this article proposes that mindfulness should be an essential element in law school curriculum.

Part I discusses how distractedness has impacted attention and learning. Part II describes the last decade of research showing the cognitive and physical benefits of mindfulness. Part III discusses the critique of the traditional law school format and advocates that law schools should follow medicine and industry in using mindfulness training to address these issues.

Improves cognition and memory with neurodegenerative diseases

Newberg, A. B., et al. (2014). Meditation and neurodegenerative diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307(1), 112-123. Full text.

Abstract. Neurodegenerative diseases pose a significant problem for the healthcare system, doctors, and patients. With an aging population, more and more individuals are developing neurodegenerative diseases and there are few treatment options at the present time. Meditation techniques present an interesting potential adjuvant treatment for patients with neurodegenerative diseases and have the advantage of being inexpensive, and easy to teach and perform.

There is increasing research evidence to support the application of meditation techniques to help improve cognition and memory in patients with neurodegenerative diseases. This review discusses the current data on meditation, memory, and attention, and the potential applications of meditation techniques in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Effect of meditation strongest for changes in emotionality and relationship issues (163 studies)

Sedlmeier, P., et al.,  (2012). The psychological effects of meditation: A meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 138(6), 1139. Full text.

In this meta-analysis, we give a comprehensive overview of the effects of meditation on psychological variables that can be extracted from empirical studies, concentrating on the effects of meditation on nonclinical groups of adult meditators.

Mostly because of methodological problems, almost ¾ of an initially identified 595 studies had to be excluded. Most studies appear to have been conducted without sufficient theoretical background. To put the results into perspective, we briefly summarize the major theoretical approaches from both East and West.

The 163 studies that allowed the calculation of effect sizes exhibited medium average effects, which cannot be explained by mere relaxation or cognitive restructuring effects. In general, results were strongest (medium to large) for changes in emotionality and relationship issues, less strong (about medium) for measures of attention, and weakest (small to medium) for more cognitive measures. However, specific findings varied across different approaches to meditation (transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation, and other meditation techniques).

Surprisingly, meditation experience only partially covaried with long-term impact on the variables examined. In general, the dependent variables used cover only some of the content areas about which predictions can be made from already existing theories about meditation; still, such predictions lack precision at present.

We conclude that to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of why and how meditation works, emphasis should be placed on the development of more precise theories and measurement devices. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations

Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological medicine, 40(08), 1239-1252. Full text.

From the Abstract. Mindfulness meditation (MM) practices constitute an important group of meditative practices that have received growing attention. The aim of the present paper was to systematically review current evidence on the neurobiological changes and clinical benefits related to MM practice in psychiatric disorders, in physical illnesses and in healthy subjects.

Electroencephalographic (EEG) studies have revealed a significant increase in alpha and theta activity during meditation. Neuroimaging studies showed that MM practice activates the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and that long-term meditation practice is associated with an enhancement of cerebral areas related to attention.

From a clinical viewpoint, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has shown efficacy for many psychiatric and physical conditions and also for healthy subjects, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is mainly efficacious in reducing relapses of depression in patients with three or more episodes, Zen meditation significantly reduces blood pressure and Vipassana meditation shows efficacy in reducing alcohol and substance abuse in prisoners. However, given the low-quality designs of current studies it is difficult to establish whether clinical outcomes are due to specific or non-specific effects of MM.

Helps improve cognition and memory in patients with neurodegenerative diseases

Newberg, A. B., Serruya, M., Wintering, N., Moss, A. S., Reibel, D., & Monti, D. A. (2013). Meditation and neurodegenerative diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Epub ahead of publication. Abstract.

Neurodegenerative diseases pose a significant problem for the healthcare system, doctors, and patients. With an aging population, more and more individuals are developing neurodegenerative diseases and there are few treatment options at the present time. Meditation techniques present an interesting potential adjuvant treatment for patients with neurodegenerative diseases and have the advantage of being inexpensive, and easy to teach and perform.

There is increasing research evidence to support the application of meditation techniques to help improve cognition and memory in patients with neurodegenerative diseases. This review discusses the current data on meditation, memory, and attention, and the potential applications of meditation techniques in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Effect on attention and time perception

Kramer, R. S. S., Wegen, U., & Sharma, D. (2013). The effect of mindfulness meditation on time perception. Consciousness and Cognition, 22(3), 846–852. Abstract.

Highlights: • We examined the effect of mindfulness meditation on time perception. • Mindfulness meditation increased perceived duration, therefore slowing time. • A control task had no effect on perceived duration. • Mindfulness meditation altered time perception via attentional processes.

From the Abstract: Research has increasingly focussed on the benefits of meditation in everyday life and performance. Mindfulness in particular improves attention, working memory capacity, and reading comprehension. Given its emphasis on moment-to-moment awareness, we hypothesised that mindfulness meditation would alter time perception.

Using a within-subjects design, participants carried out a temporal bisection task, where several probe durations are compared to “short” and “long” standards. Following this, participants either listened to an audiobook or a meditation that focussed on the movement of breath in the body. Finally, participants completed the temporal bisection task for a second time.

The control group showed no change after the listening task. However, meditation led to a relative overestimation of durations. Within an internal clock framework, a change in attentional resources can produce longer perceived durations. This meditative effect has wider implications for the use of mindfulness as an everyday practice and a basis for clinical treatment.

Mind-wandering and brain networks

Sood, A., & Jones, D. T. (2013). On Mind Wandering, Attention, Brain Networks, and Meditation. Explore: The journal of science and healing, 9(3), 136–141.

Abstract: Human attention selectively focuses on aspects of experience that are threatening, pleasant, or novel. The physical threats of the ancient times have largely been replaced by chronic psychological worries and hurts. The mind gets drawn to these worries and hurts, mostly in the domain of the past and future, leading to mind wandering. In the brain, a network of neurons called the default mode network has been associated with mind wandering. Abnormal activity in the default mode network may predispose to depression, anxiety, attention deficit, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Several studies show that meditation can reverse some of these abnormalities, producing salutary functional and structural changes in the brain. This narrative review presents a mechanistic understanding of meditation in the context of recent advances in neurosciences about mind wandering, attention, and the brain networks.