Stories from the Field, Part XI: Assessing our own data

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness impacts the students I work with (and in return, how they impact me), in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from a STEM high school in Portland, Maine:

When I started the semester with my students, I told them we were doing an experiment on ourselves. We would review the research, and look at the science, but ultimately it would be our own experience that determined the impact of mindfulness meditation on our well-being. As the semester comes to a close, it was time for them to draw some conclusions based on their experiences. 

Least I seem a hypocrite, having in my last post spoken of the limitations of assessing mindfulness and yoga, I still believe there is value in examining the data we can collect, as long as we acknowledge there are some things we cannot measure. 

At the beginning and end of this course, students anonymously took the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and Healthy Regulation Scale (HRS). Each of these psychological measures have been vetted for test-retest reliability. I explained to the students that because the number of participants was low, the we would need to be careful about drawing hard conclusions, but I did notice when I compared student responses, it appeared that there had been overall change rather than one student's responses skewing the data. 

I handed out graphs comparing the mean of the student responses from the pre- and post- test, and asked them to make statements or ask questions about what they found interesting. Students noticed that there was growth on every dimension, especially in feelings of control over their lives (Q2, Q7, Q9). One student remarked that she would have thought people would be more stressed out at the end of the trimester when they had a lot due, so she was surprised at the results. The average PSS score dropped from the "high perceived stress" category (27.3) to the "moderate perceived stress" 21.4. 

 Perceived Stress Scale

Perceived Stress Scale

The Healthy Regulation Scale (HRS) also had some interesting implications, with student data suggested growth in eight out of the twelve dimensions. There were a few anomalies, however, that students made hypotheses about.  First, students reported they had slightly less ability to bring their focus back when distracted (Q2). One girl thought this might be because they had different contexts for thinking about this question. In the beginning, they might have been thinking about during homework, whereas at the end, they might have thought about it in meditation. Another interesting finding was that students reported a slightly less peaceful attitude with themselves (Q5). Someone reflected that maybe it was because they had done enough meditation that they could see their foibles, but not enough to accept them. The greatest growth appeared to be on questions about having healthy ways to calm down and relax (Q10, Q12).

 Healthy Regulation Scale

Healthy Regulation Scale

Because quantitative data can be limiting, students also had the opportunity to reflect in an open-ended format on their experience.  In the end, we performed a loose mixed-methods experiment on ourselves. So yes, it's not perfect, and it provided a great way for students to get feedback on their investment into trying mindfulness this trimester.

Below is an unscientific summary of the findings: