Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Yu Gao

Committee Members

Laura A. Rabin

Margaret-Ellen Pipe

Benzion Chanowitz

Elisabeth Brauner

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


mindfulness, meditation, stress response, emotion regulation, heart rate variability, Polyvagal theory



Can Mindfulness Training Reduce Stress-Reactivity in First-Year College Students?


Liat Zitron

Advisor: Yu Gao, PhD

The positive effects of mindfulness-based practices on stress reactivity have been gaining steady attention in recent years. Yet, the effects of mindfulness training on stress responses via the autonomic nervous system (ANS) functioning, and in particular, changes in cardiovascular activity, have rarely been researched. The polyvagal theory (Porges, 1995) offers a theoretical framework in which the roles of the subdivisions of the ANS in regulating emotion and behaviors are delineated, and closely connected to the concept of heart rate variability (HRV) and its association with stress responses. A select literature review highlighting prior mindfulness studies utilizing physiological markers to index the ANS response to stress in different populations across the lifespan follows. Special attention is given to first-year college students and their unique challenges as they navigate this critical juncture in their lives. In this study, 25 first-year college students were randomly assigned to attending six weekly sessions of either mindfulness training (intervention group) or a ‘sham’ mindfulness stress-reduction training (control group). Subjective reports of anxiety and stress, as well as psychophysiological responses during a lab social stressor were assessed pre and post training for both groups. Additionally, trait mindfulness was assessed prior to the training. Results showed that participants in the mindfulness group had statistically significant increases in their HRV measures from pre to post training, indicative of an attenuated stress response and a more balanced ANS. Specifically, participants who were dispositionally lower in trait mindfulness were the ones to gain these stress reduction training-related benefits, whereas those high in dispositional mindfulness did not show similar gains. These results provide initial evidence that mindfulness training may be an effective means to reduce stress reactivity in college students, especially at the pivotal transition into college life.

Included in

Psychology Commons