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Mindfulness practice correlates with reduced exam-induced stress and improved exam performance in preclinical medical students with the "acting with awareness", "non-judging" and "non-reacting" facets of mindfulness particularly associated with improved exam performance.

Hearn, Jasmine Heath and Stocker, Claire J (2022) Mindfulness practice correlates with reduced exam-induced stress and improved exam performance in preclinical medical students with the "acting with awareness", "non-judging" and "non-reacting" facets of mindfulness particularly associated with improved exam performance. BMC Psychology, 10 (1). p. 41. ISSN 2050-7283

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Abstract

Background Medical students demonstrate higher levels of psychological distress compared with the general population and other student groups, especially at exam times. Mindfulness interventions show promise in stress reduction for this group, and in the reduction of cortisol, an established clinical marker of the body’s stress response. This study investigated the relationship of mindfulness to exam-induced stress, salivary cortisol and exam performance in undergraduate medical students. Methods A controlled pre-post analysis design with within-groups comparisons. 67 medical students completed the five facet mindfulness questionnaire (FFMQ) and provided saliva samples, from which cortisol was extracted, during group work (control/baseline) and immediately prior to end of year 2 examinations (experimental). Academic performance data was extracted for comparison with measures. Results Exam-induced salivary cortisol concentration showed a significant negative relation with exam performance. Total FFMQ score showed a significant positive relation with exam performance and a significant negative relation with exam-induced salivary cortisol. The specific mindfulness facets of acting with awareness, non-judging and non-reacting also showed a positive correlation with exam performance. Conclusions This study suggests that there exists an important relationship between mindfulness and the physiological biomarker of stress, cortisol, and this manifests into improved assessment outcomes potentially through healthier, more adaptive coping and stress management strategies. In particular, this study identifies the acting with awareness, non-judging and non-reacting facets of mindfulness to be significantly associated with exam performance suggesting that these may be important facets for clinical educators to target when helping students with mindfulness practice.

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