Mindfulness, anxiety, and high-stakes mathematics performance in the laboratory and classroom

Conscious Cogn. 2015 Dec;37:123-32. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.09.001. Epub 2015 Sep 12.


Mindfulness enhances emotion regulation and cognitive performance. A mindful approach may be especially beneficial in high-stakes academic testing environments, in which anxious thoughts disrupt cognitive control. The current studies examined whether mindfulness improves the emotional response to anxiety-producing testing situations, freeing working memory resources, and improving performance. In Study 1, we examined performance in a high-pressure laboratory setting. Mindfulness indirectly benefited math performance by reducing the experience of state anxiety. This benefit occurred selectively for problems that required greater working memory resources. Study 2 extended these findings to a calculus course taken by undergraduate engineering majors. Mindfulness indirectly benefited students' performance on high-stakes quizzes and exams by reducing their cognitive test anxiety. Mindfulness did not impact performance on lower-stakes homework assignments. These findings reveal an important mechanism by which mindfulness benefits academic performance, and suggest that mindfulness may help attenuate the negative effects of test anxiety.

Keywords: Education; Engineering; Mathematics; Mindfulness; Pressure; Test anxiety; Working memory.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Mindfulness*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult