Does a Contemplative Practice Bring Immediate Recovery from Post-Television Executive Function Depletion in Young Children
We speak with Tish Jennings about her new book, The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching.
This study is an examination of whether contemplative practices can help to repair and restore the cognitive activity associated with Executive Function (EF) in young children. In particular, the research is focused on preschoolers whose EF has been depleted through exposure to fast-paced and fantastical children’s television shows, which have been shown to strain attention and information processing abilities. Children today frequently engage with media that depletes their EF. Executive Function describes the higher cognitive processes that enable goal directed behaviors - processes which enable us to inhibit automatic responses, to follow rules, and to hold and manipulate information in the conscious mind (working memory). Because such processes allow us to follow directions, plan, and regulate our behavior, EF is considered to be crucial for healthy cognitive and social functioning and is strongly associated with children’s success in school - itself a basic predictor of overall health and wellbeing into adulthood. In adults, contemplative practices have been shown to enhance EF and regulate stress responses. These results also correlate with MRI readings that indicate positive underlying neuroplastic changes in the brains of people who engage in such practices. Thus it is of great interest to understand whether such practices can similarly benefit children. To make this determination, this study is proceeding through several research phases. First, a pilot test of contemplative practices (specifically, those associated with mindfulness-based stress reduction) will determine which will be most suitable for preschool-age children. Next, children will be guided through these practices after watching a portion of the popular television show, “Sponge Bob Square Pants.” Their performance on a basic series of EF tests will be measured against children in a control group. If contemplative practices can help to repair and restore preschoolers’ EF, teachers and parents could use them to help children who, due to any variety of circumstances, struggle with self-regulation. Thus, this research may illuminate a significant new application for contemplative practice.