MIT Study: Practicing mindfulness with an app could improve children's mental health

- through Henry Oudin

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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found that mindfulness apps could be well-positioned to help today's children improve their attention, behavior and overall mental health.

Mindfulness is generally defined as “cultivating open attention to the present moment” (MIT News). One of the most famous names in the discipline and industry of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention , voluntarily, in the present moment, without judgment, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom” (conscious). Mindfulness is not a temporary escape from the chaos of life, but perhaps its opposite: confronting a world of chaos in a lasting way “with an anchor of calm and clarity.” (

The study, conducted by researchers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, takes into context the changing learning landscape, with millions of students studying from home and apps like Zoom becoming a part of daily life and school. According to MIT News, “a group of MIT researchers “wondered whether remote, app-based mindfulness practices might offer similar benefits.” In a study conducted in 2020 and 2021, they report that children who used a mindfulness app at home for 40 days showed improvements in several aspects of mental health, including a reduction in stress and negative emotions such than loneliness and fear. (MIT News)

“Home Use of App-Based Mindfulness for Children: A Randomized Active-Controlled Trial” is an open access article published October 9 in the journal mindfulness. The research team conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with three control groups, involving an 8-week mindfulness intervention in 279 American children aged 8 to 10 years. The objective was to examine the pre-post effects between these three control groups: a group where children used the Inner Explorer app (the mindfulness intervention), a second group where children listened to an audiobook app (unrelated to mindfulness), and a third group where participants had weekly one-on-one virtual meetings with a facilitator.

The children were then “asked to engage in mindfulness training five days a week, including relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, and other forms of meditation” (MIT). They were “assessed based on self-report measures of anxiety and depression symptoms, perceived stress, and trait mindfulness, and we also collected parent reports.” (Springer)

According to MIT News, “At the beginning and end of the study, researchers assessed each participant's levels of mindfulness, as well as mental health measures such as anxiety, stress, and depression” (MIT News). In all three groups, children's mental health improved over the course of the study, with each group demonstrating increased prosocial behavior and mindfulness. However, children in the mindfulness group showed some additional benefits, including a more significant decrease in stress. Additionally, parents in the mindfulness group reported that their children experienced a more significant reduction in negative emotions, such as sadness or anger. Students experienced the most benefits from practicing the Inner Explorer App exercises most of the time.

“There are many interesting ways to integrate mindfulness training into schools, but in general it requires more resources than asking people to download an app. So in terms of pure scalability and cost effectiveness, the applications are useful,” said MIT graduate student Isaac N. Treves, an author of the study. “Another advantage of the apps is that children can progress at their own pace and repeat the practices they like, giving them more freedom of choice. »

The researchers conclude that remote, app-based mindfulness training would appear to be useful, provided that children "engage regularly in the exercises and receive encouragement from their parents." Apps also require fewer resources because they can reach more children with less training and fewer staff required than school-based programs. (MIT News)

Consistency is important. Reaping the benefits of mindfulness requires patience and practice, with practitioners “returning to the present, again and again, developing mental resilience and openness to the ebbs and flows of life.” (

The study could also have larger implications: as all trends point towards an increasing digitalization and atomization of the human individual (which is not only due to the pandemic but is fueled by the dominance of mobile technology, social media and new models of schooling and teaching). work), mindfulness could play a renewed important, even urgent, role in improving mental health.

This study was funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as part of the Reach Every Reader Project, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

See more

Home Use of App-Based Mindfulness for Children: A Randomized Active Controlled Trial (Mindfulness)
Practicing mindfulness with an app can improve children's mental health (MIT)
Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining mindfulness (mindfulness)
Using apps to practice mindfulness improves children's mental health (

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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