This summer, 40 current UCSB students and graduating seniors will have the opportunity to participate in the Summer Intensive Transformation Program, a project devised by UCSB’s Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences which incorporates fitness, nutrition, relationship and “mindfulness” training in order to improve students’ academic performances.
This summer’s program will mark the second six-week personal and professional development program offered by researchers at the UCSB Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences after the success of their first program which garnered recognition from the New York Times and Scientific American. Post-doctoral researcher Michael Mrazek and psychology professor Jonathan W. Schooler devised the program in 2012 and published their results in Psychological Science last February. Having found the outcome encouraging, Mrazek and Schooler brought the program back for another year and began accepting volunteers yesterday.
Both researchers and participants said the results were phenomenal. According to Mrazek, the Transformation Program affected academic performance as well as physical health and fitness.
“We found increased working memory capacity, enhanced performance on the GRE, increased muscular endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and improved triglyceride levels — a measure of risk for heart disease,” Mrazek said.
Mrazek also said participants improved in “mood, happiness, self-esteem and mindfulness that persisted for up to six weeks after the training program.”
UCSB alumnus and former participant Andrew Lewis said his experience in the Summer Intensive Transformation Program was life changing, and that prior to his involvement, his difficulty in coping with stress resulted in academic probation and dismissal for a quarter. Before participating in the program, Lewis said he thought meditation was “woo-woo bullshit,” but afterwards he said it could have legitimate applications.
“It’s an incredibly powerful way to improve your life — literally every part from relationships, grades and emotions,” he said in an email.
Lewis said he advises future participants to practice what they learn continuously after their program concludes, despite that few actually do so.
“Many of my other classmates will tell you that [the program] was a great time and they never felt so healthy and mentally clear, but most have reverted back to their old behaviors,” Lewis said in an email. “I, on the other hand, have continued practicing meditation an hour a day ever since that program.”
Mrazek said he expects this year’s program to be “even more effective” than last time, as they will incorporate what they learned from the first program and increase the number of research staff. He said the strict structural support provided by the program reinforces the benefits of the training methods used.
“Many of these things students can try to implement on their own, but the benefit of doing it within a program is that you get the support needed to make all those changes simultaneously,” Mrazek said.
In terms of the research aspect of the program, Mrazek said they plan to use new tools and measurements to assess the effects of the training, including “a different type of brain scan to examine white matter tracks that connect parts of the brain.”
Schooler, the study’s senior investigator who worked alongside Mrazek to design the research, said the new brain scan would allow better “understanding of the structural changes to the [participant’s] brain.”
Schooler also said Mrazek, who he described as “the brain child of the project,” made the decision to adopt an unorthodox research approach of “let’s do everything we possibly can and see what happens.” This approach contrasts with traditional research methods, Schooler said.
“What scientists in behavior research typically do is they take one very specific hypothesis and one very specific intervention and then examine the specific impact of that intervention,” he said. “The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t give you a sense of just how much growth potential exists in people to change.”
Schooler said he hopes the research will encourage more creative thinking when it comes to psychological interventions. He also said he looks forward to this summer’s program because it will explore the ways in which human nature can grow and change.
“We are really excited about this project because it’s increasingly clear that human capacity has great plasticity,” Schooler said. “We are not fixed and we can really change in major ways.”