In the 1930s, college kids swallowed goldfish. In the ’50s they squeezed as many people as possible into phone booths and small cars. In the ’60s they rioted. In the ’70s they streaked naked across campuses. In the new century, they rioted again.
Does anyone doubt that college damages your brain?
They don’t at a small Iowa university, which today will hold a conference on brain research that a news release said “shows that college experience takes a terrible toll on a student’s brain.”
About 100 people are expected to attend the conference at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, which will focus on reversing the effects of academic pressures, binge drinking, poor diet, sleep deprivation and stress on the brain. Not surprisingly, some of the professors at the school, which is named after the man who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the world, have concluded that the ultimate solution is … Transcendental Meditation.
Fred Travis, who directs the university’s Center for Brain, Consciousness and Cognition, argues that lack of sleep, drug use, drinking, partying, stress and many other student behaviors hamper the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls decision-making, thought and planning. Travis said the college lifestyle shifts young brains into what he calls “survival mode” rather than careful contemplation.
He said that lifestyle yields “lots of fragmented facts, and a brain wired for emergency situations. Their sense of self is small, and their awareness is tied into surface stuff.”
From there, Travis said, it’s a short leap to graduating shallow people who become duplicitous government officials and cheating Enron executives.
At Maharishi, students eat from an all-organic menu, and helping to create world peace is a goal featured on the school website, www.mum.edu. Transcendental Meditation — the name is trademarked, by the way — is part of the curriculum. Travis said he wishes more universities used it as a way to soothe students and their brains. “There is a very real benefit,” he said.
– Is TM a religion?
Ed Ehlinger, director of Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, agrees that students (and everyone else) should do things in moderation, taking care of body and spirit by keeping things in balance, getting exercise, having a support system and finding time to relax.
Boynton offers stress reduction classes that include yoga, tai chi, massage and “mindfulness meditation,” and students take advantage of those classes. But he said that while there is risk in being young — “People at that age think they’re invulnerable and they take risks and do crazy things” — college appears to offer some protections.
Suicide rates among 18- to 24-year-olds are higher among the noncollege population than among college students, he said. And research shows that well-educated people live the longest.
“Life damages your brain,” Ehlinger said. “But education is a protective factor. If you want to live a long time and be healthy, go to college.”