Reduced Psychological Distress in Racial and Ethnic Minority Students Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Program

By Elder, Charles; Nidich, Sanford et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Reduced Psychological Distress in Racial and Ethnic Minority Students Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Program


Elder, Charles, Nidich, Sanford, Colbert, Robert, Hagelin, John, Grayshield, Lisa, Oviedo-Lim, Dynah, Nidich, Randi, Rainforth, Maxwell, Jones, Chris, Gerace, Denise, Journal of Instructional Psychology


There is a growing literature describing the stressful nature of students' school experience. Previous research has found that racial and ethnic minority groups are particularly subject to high levels of stress due to exposure to violence, pressures due to acculturation, and the schooling process. This is the first study to evaluate effects of the Transcendental Meditation[R] program on psychological distress across diverse racial and ethnic minority student groups. A total of 106 secondary school students (68 meditating and 38 non-meditating students), who completed both baseline and 4-month post-testing, were included. Results indicated reductions in Transcendental Meditation students compared to controls in general psychological distress and anxiety. Within-group effects on depressive symptoms also were observed. Because of the association between psychological distress and both adverse school performance and poor physical and mental health outcomes, it is important for school administrators to implement programs of stress reduction into their schools.

Keywords: Transcendental Meditation, stress, psychological distress

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There is a growing literature describing the stressful nature of students' school experience (Lowry, Cohen, Modzeleski, & Kann, 1999). Research has found a strong association between students' experience of stress and years of schooling, with nearly 50% of secondary school students reporting either psychological stress or physical-stress related symptoms (Minnesota Department of Education, 2007). Other studies have linked psychological distress such as anxiety and depression, to poor academic achievement, negative school behavior, and adverse physical and mental health outcomes (e.g., Aluja & Branch, 2004; Kiselica, Baker, Thomas, & Reedy, 1994; Schwarzer, 1990; Heinrich, 1979; Barnes, Bauza, Treiber, 2001; Barnes, Treiber, & Davis, 2001; Suldo, Shaunessy, & Hardesty, 2008).

Socio-environmental and school stressors, including acculturation, violence and academic troubles, are among factors that have impacted students' levels of psychological distress and associated poor academic performance (Thompson & Massat, 2005; Grannis, 1992). In Hispanic students, difficulties in language and other socio-cultural factors have contributed to lower self-efficacy and negative health behaviors such as alcohol use, which have in turn poorly impacted academic performance and graduation rates (Alva, 1995; Alva & Reyes, 1999; Close & Solberg, 2008; Willig, Harnisch, Hill, & Maehr, 1983). Studies on psychological distress in African American students indicate that exposure to violence increases the risk for depression, anger, disassociation, and post-trauma stress, as well as increasing academic and behavioral problems (Hall, Cassidy & Stevenson, 2008; Singer, Anglin, Song, & Lunghofer, 1995; Thompson & Massat, 2005). For American Indian students, conflicting cultural styles not supported by the public schools (Costantino & St. Charles, 2000) is a major factor contributing to feelings of anxiety, depression, marginality and alienation, as well as heightened psychosomatic symptoms and identity confusion (Williams & Berry, 1991).

Previous research has shown that psychological distress can be decreased in other populations through the practice of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program. A meta-analysis of 146 studies with adults by Eppley, Abrams, and Shear (1989) showed the effectiveness of the Transcendental Meditation technique compared to other meditation and stress reduction programs in reducing anxiety. Research has also shown reductions in depressive symptoms and emotional distress (Sheppard, Staggers, & John, 1997; Aron, Orme-Johnson, & Brubaker, 1981).

Studies of Transcendental Meditation interventions in predominantly African American secondary and middle school students have shown decreased cardiovascular reactivity to stressful stimuli, lower rates of school absenteeism, rule infractions and suspensions, and improved emotional regulation and well-being (Barnes, Treiber, & Davis, 2001; Barnes, Bauza, & Davis, 2001; Rosaen & Benn, 2006).

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