Professor studies minds

Amishi Jha, a psychology professor at UM who specializes in mindfulness research, received a federal grant to study short-term mindfulness training (MT) in high-stress groups. Naturally, she turned to college students.

Freshmen studying introductory psychology visited Jha to participate in sessions. The goal was to track students’ mind-wandering patterns throughout the semester.

“We hypothesized that mind-wandering would change over the course of the semester,” she said.

The study, which was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, split the 58 student participants into control and experimental groups.

“We know that around finals, psychological health goes down, and mind-wandering increases over the course of the semester,” Jha said.

While this was evident in the control group, the students who practiced mindful breathing, body scans, walking meditation and other exercises actually improved.

“This is the first step in being able to say stress over the semester can really be significant, and what this study suggests is that even a short-form mindfulness course may help us keep this at bay,” Jha said.

Jha’s mindfulness research on undergraduates is unique to UM, as is her use of brain-imaging equipment in the Brain Connectivity and Cognition Laboratory on San Amaro Drive.

She plans to expand the study by looking at the benefits of MT on student leaders, as well as its correlation to issues such as binge drinking and the freshman 15. Jha would also like to study students involved in Greek life and resident assistants.

And she hopes to see it all come to fruition within the next three years.

“The university’s willingness to embrace mindfulness and the mindfulness initiative is a really good sign of their care and concern for their students,” Jha said.