<p>BACKGROUND: All therapists direct their attention in some manner during psychotherapy. A special form of directing attention, 'mindfulness', is recommended. This study aimed to examine whether, and to what extent, promoting mindfulness in psychotherapists in training (PiT) influences the treatment results of their patients. METHODS: The therapeutic course and treatment results of 124 inpatients, who were treated for 9 weeks by 18 PiTs, were compared. The PiTs were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups: (i) those practicing Zen meditation (MED; n = 9 or (ii) control group, which did not perform meditation (noMED; n = 9). The results of treatment (according to the intent-to-treat principle) were examined using the Session Questionnaire for General and Differential Individual Psychotherapy (STEP), the Questionnaire of Changes in Experience and Behavior (VEV) and the Symptom Checklist (SCL-90-R). RESULTS: Compared to the noMED group (n = 61), the patients of PiTs from the MED group (n = 63) had significantly higher evaluations (according to the intent-to-treat principle) for individual therapy on 2 STEP scales, clarification and problem-solving perspectives. Their evaluations were also significantly higher for the entire therapeutic result on the VEV. Furthermore, the MED group showed greater symptom reduction than the noMED group on the Global Severity Index and 8 SCL-90-R scales, including Somatization, Insecurity in Social Contact, Obsessiveness, Anxiety, Anger/Hostility, Phobic Anxiety, Paranoid Thinking and Psychoticism. CONCLUSIONS: This study indicates that promoting mindfulness in PiTs could positively influence the therapeutic course and treatment results in their patients.</p>
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children (MBCT-C) is a manualized group psychotherapy for children ages 9–13 years old, which was developed specifically to increase social-emotional resiliency through the enhancement of mindful attention. Program development is described along with results of the initial randomized controlled trial. We tested the hypotheses that children randomized to participate in MBCT-C would show greater reductions in (a) attention problems, (b) anxiety symptoms, and (c) behavior problems than wait-listed age and gender-matched controls. Participants were boys and girls aged 9–13 (N = 25), mostly from low-income, inner-city households. Twenty-one of 25 children were ethnic minorities. A randomized cross-lagged design provided a wait-listed control group, a second trial of MBCT-C, and a 3-month follow-up of children who completed the first trial. Measures included the Child Behavior Checklist, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children, and Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children. Participants who completed the program showed fewer attention problems than wait-listed controls and those improvements were maintained at three months following the intervention [F (1, 1, 18) = 5.965, p = .025, Cohen’s d = .42]. A strong relationship was found between attention problems and behavior problems (r = .678, p < .01). Reductions in attention problems accounted for 46% of the variance of changes in behavior problems, although attention changes proved to be a non-significant mediator of behavior problems (p = .053). Significant reductions in anxiety symptoms and behavior problems were found for those children who reported clinically elevated levels of anxiety at pretest (n = 6). Results show that MBCT-C is a promising intervention for attention and behavior problems, and may reduce childhood anxiety symptoms.
This experiment was designed to assess the differential impact of initially presenting affective information to the left versus right hemisphere on both the perception of and response to the input. Nineteen right-handed subjects were presented with faces expressing happiness and sadness. Each face was presented twice to each visual field for an 8-sec duration. The electro-oculogram (EOG) was monitored and fed back to subjects to train them to keep their eyes focused on the central fixation point as well as to eliminate trials confounded by eye movement artifact. Following each slide presentation, subjects rated the intensity of the emotional expression depicted in the face and their emotional reaction to the face on a series of 7-point rating scales. Subjects reported perceiving more happiness in response to stimuli initially presented to the left hemisphere (right visual field) compared to presentations of the identical faces to the right hemisphere (left visual field). This effect was predominantly a function of ratings on sad faces. A similar, albeit less robust, effect was found on self-ratings of happiness (the degree to which the face elicited the emotion in the viewer). These data challenge the view that the right hemisphere is uniquely involved in all emotional behavior. The implications of these findings for theories concerning the lateralization of emotional behavior are discussed.
Anhedonia, the loss of pleasure or interest in previously rewarding stimuli, is a core feature of major depression. While theorists have argued that anhedonia reflects a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, evidence is mixed as to whether anhedonia is caused by a reduction in hedonic capacity. An alternative explanation is that anhedonia is due to the inability to sustain positive affect across time. Using positive images, we used an emotion regulation task to test whether individuals with depression are unable to sustain activation in neural circuits underlying positive affect and reward. While up-regulating positive affect, depressed individuals failed to sustain nucleus accumbens activity over time compared with controls. This decreased capacity was related to individual differences in self-reported positive affect. Connectivity analyses further implicated the fronto-striatal network in anhedonia. These findings support the hypothesis that anhedonia in depressed patients reflects the inability to sustain engagement of structures involved in positive affect and reward.
Working memory (WM) comprises operations whose coordinated action contributes to our ability to maintain focus on goal-relevant information in the presence of distraction. The present study investigated the nature of distraction upon the neural correlates of WM maintenance operations by presenting task-irrelevant distracters during the interval between the memoranda and probes of a delayed-response WM task. The study used a region of interest (ROIs) approach to investigate the role of anterior (e.g., lateral and medial prefrontal cortex--PFC) and posterior (e.g., parietal and fusiform cortices) brain regions that have been previously associated with WM operations. Behavioral results showed that distracters that were confusable with the memorandum impaired WM performance, compared to either the presence of non-confusable distracters or to the absence of distracters. These different levels of distraction led to differences in the regional patterns of delay interval activity measured with event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In the anterior ROIs, dorsolateral PFC activation was associated with WM encoding and maintenance, and in maintaining a preparatory state, and ventrolateral PFC activation was associated with the inhibition of distraction. In the posterior ROIs, activation of the posterior parietal and fusiform cortices was associated with WM and perceptual processing, respectively. These findings provide novel evidence concerning the neural systems mediating the cognitive and behavioral responses during distraction, and places frontal cortex at the top of the hierarchy of the neural systems responsible for cognitive control.
<p>The relaxation response (RR) is the counterpart of the stress response. Millennia-old practices evoking the RR include meditation, yoga and repetitive prayer. Although RR elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging, the underlying molecular mechanisms that explain these clinical benefits remain undetermined. To assess rapid time-dependent (temporal) genomic changes during one session of RR practice among healthy practitioners with years of RR practice and also in novices before and after 8 weeks of RR training, we measured the transcriptome in peripheral blood prior to, immediately after, and 15 minutes after listening to an RR-eliciting or a health education CD. Both short-term and long-term practitioners evoked significant temporal gene expression changes with greater significance in the latter as compared to novices. RR practice enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. Interactive network analyses of RR-affected pathways identified mitochondrial ATP synthase and insulin (INS) as top upregulated critical molecules (focus hubs) and NF-κB pathway genes as top downregulated focus hubs. Our results for the first time indicate that RR elicitation, particularly after long-term practice, may evoke its downstream health benefits by improving mitochondrial energy production and utilization and thus promoting mitochondrial resiliency through upregulation of ATPase and insulin function. Mitochondrial resiliency might also be promoted by RR-induced downregulation of NF-κB-associated upstream and downstream targets that mitigates stress.</p>
<p>As Titchener pointed out more than one hundred years ago, attention is at the center of the psychological enterprise. Attention research investigates how voluntary control and subjective experience arise from and regulate our behavior. In recent years, attention has been one of the fastest growing of all fields within cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. This review examines attention as characterized by linking common neural networks with individual differences in their efficient utilization. The development of attentional networks is partly specified by genes, but is also open to specific experiences through the actions of caregivers and the culture. We believe that the connection between neural networks, genes, and socialization provides a common approach to all aspects of human cognition and emotion. Pursuit of this approach can provide a basis for psychology that unifies social, cultural, differential, experimental, and physiological areas, and allows normal development to serve as a baseline for understanding various forms of pathology. D.O. Hebb proposed this approach 50 years ago in his volume Organization of Behavior and continued with introductory textbooks that dealt with all of the topics of psychology in a common framework. Use of a common network approach to psychological science may allow a foundation for predicting and understanding human behavior in its varied forms.</p>
Schools are searching for innovative ways to meet the unique academic, social-emotional, and behavioral needs of adolescents, many of whom face serious personal and family challenges. An innovative practice that is currently being introduced into school settings is meditation. Types of meditation offered in school-based settings include mindfulness meditation, the relaxation response, and Transcendental Meditation. These practices, as cognitive-behavioral interventions that are available for use by social workers and other school professionals, help students to enhance academic and psychosocial strengths and improve self-regulation capacities and coping abilities. This article defines meditation and meditative practices, reviews the literature showing the benefits and challenges of offering meditation to adolescents in a school-based setting, and describes the relevance of these practices for adolescents. The article also discusses implications for school social workers, teachers, and school administrators and reflects on the current research and future efforts toward building the research base for the promising practice of meditation in schools.
The current study investigated the effects of an 8-week mindfulness-based meditation training (MMT) intervention on attentional bias, engagement and disengagement of pain-related threat in fibromyalgia patients as compared to an age-matched control group. A well validated dot-probe task was used to explore early versus later stages of attentional processing through the use of two stimulus exposure durations (100, 500 ms) of pain-related threat words. The enduring effects of MMT were assessed 6-months after completion of MMT. Preliminary results suggest that MMT reduces avoidance of pain-related threat at early levels of processing, and facilitates disengagement from threat at later stages of processing. Furthermore, it appears that effects of MMT on early attentional threat processing do not remain stable after long-term follow-up.
Selective attention has been shown to bias sensory processing in favor of relevant stimuli and against irrelevant or distracting stimuli in perceptual tasks. Increasing evidence suggests that selective attention plays an important role during working memory maintenance, possibly by biasing sensory processing in favor of to-be-remembered items. In the current study, we investigated whether selective attention may also support working memory by biasing processing against irrelevant and potentially distracting information. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while subjects (n = 22) performed a delayed-recognition task for faces and shoes. The delay period was filled with face or shoe distractors. Behavioral performance was impaired when distractors were congruent with the working memory domain (e.g., face distractor during working memory for faces) relative to when distractors were incongruent with the working memory domain (e.g., face distractor during shoe working memory). If attentional biasing against distractor processing is indeed functionally relevant in supporting working memory maintenance, perceptual processing of distractors is predicted to be attenuated when distractors are more behaviorally intrusive relative to when they are nonintrusive. As such, we predicted that perceptual processing of distracting faces, as measured by the face-sensitive N170 ERP component, would be reduced in the context of congruent (face) working memory relative to incongruent (shoe) working memory. The N170 elicited by distracting faces demonstrated reduced amplitude during congruent versus incongruent working memory. These results suggest that perceptual processing of distracting faces may be attenuated due to attentional biasing against sensory processing of distractors that are most behaviorally intrusive during working memory maintenance.
<p>Recent literature has described how the capacity for concurrent self-assessment—ongoing moment-to-moment self-monitoring—is an important component of the professional competence of physicians. Self-monitoring refers to the ability to notice our own actions, curiosity to examine the effects of those actions, and willingness to use those observations to improve behavior and thinking in the future. Self-monitoring allows for the early recognition of cognitive biases, technical errors, and emotional reactions and may facilitate self-correction and development of therapeutic relationships. Cognitive neuroscience has begun to explore the brain functions associated with self-monitoring, and the structural and functional changes that occur during mental training to improve attentiveness, curiosity, and presence. This training involves cultivating habits of mind such as experiencing information as novel, thinking of “facts” as conditional, seeing situations from multiple perspectives, suspending categorization and judgment, and engaging in self-questioning. The resulting awareness is referred to as mindfulness and the associated moment-to-moment self-monitoring as mindful practice—in contrast to being on “automatic pilot” or “mindless” in one's behavior. This article is a preliminary exploration into the intersection of educational assessment, cognitive neuroscience, and mindful practice, with the hope of promoting ways of improving clinicians' capacity to self-monitor during clinical practice, and, by extension, improve the quality of care that they deliver.</p>
The scientific discovery of novel training paradigms has yielded better understanding of basic mechanisms underlying cortical plasticity, learning and development. This study is a first step in evaluating Tai Chi (TC), the Chinese slow-motion meditative exercise, as a training paradigm that, while not engaging in direct tactile stimulus training, elicits enhanced tactile acuity in long-term practitioners. The rationale for this study comes from the fact that, unlike previously studied direct-touch tactile training paradigms, TC practitioners focus specific mental attention on the body’s extremities including the fingertips and hands as they perform their slow routine. To determine whether TC is associated with enhanced tactile acuity, experienced adult TC practitioners were recruited and compared to age–gender matched controls. A blinded assessor used a validated method (Van Boven et al. in Neurology 54(12): 2230–2236, 2000) to compare TC practitioners’ and controls’ ability to discriminate between two different orientations (parallel and horizontal) across different grating widths at the fingertip. Study results showed that TC practitioners’ tactile spatial acuity was superior to that of the matched controls (P < 0.04). There was a trend showing TC may have an enhanced effect on older practitioners (P < 0.066), suggesting that TC may slow age related decline in this measure. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate a long-term attentional practice’s effects on a perceptual measure. Longitudinal studies are needed to examine whether TC initiates or is merely correlated with perceptual changes and whether it elicits long-term plasticity in primary sensory cortical maps. Further studies should also assess whether related somatosensory attentional practices (such as Yoga, mindfulness meditation and Qigong) achieve similar effects.
We investigated the top-down influence of working memory (WM) maintenance on feedforward perceptual processing within occipito-temporal face processing structures. During event-related potential (ERP) recordings, subjects performed a delayed-recognition task requiring WM maintenance of faces or houses. The face-sensitive N170 component elicited by delay-spanning task-irrelevant grayscale noise probes was examined. If early feedforward perceptual activity is biased by maintenance requirements, the N170 ERP component elicited by probes should have a greater N170 amplitude response during face relative to house WM trials. Consistent with this prediction, N170 elicited by probes presented at the beginning, middle, and end of the delay interval was greater in amplitude during face relative to house WM. Thus, these results suggest that WM maintenance demands may modulate early feedforward perceptual processing for the entirety of the delay duration. We argue based on these results that temporally early biasing of domain-specific perceptual processing may be a critical mechanism by which WM maintenance is achieved.
In recent years, three attentional networks have been defined in anatomical and functional terms. These functions involve alerting, orienting, and executive attention. Reaction time measures can be used to quantify the processing efficiency within each of these three networks. The Attention Network Test (ANT) is designed to evaluate alerting, orienting, and executive attention within a single 30-min testing session that can be easily performed by children, patients, and monkeys. A study with 40 normal adult subjects indicates that the ANT produces reliable single subject estimates of alerting, orienting, and executive function, and further suggests that the efficiencies of these three networks are uncorrelated. There are, however, some interactions in which alerting and orienting can modulate the degree of interference from flankers. This procedure may prove to be convenient and useful in evaluating attentional abnormalities associated with cases of brain injury, stroke, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit disorder. The ANT may also serve as an activation task for neuroimaging studies and as a phenotype for the study of the influence of genes on attentional networks.
The information processing capacity of the human mind is limited, as is evidenced by the attentional blink-a deficit in identifying the second of two targets (T1 and T2) presented in close succession. This deficit is thought to result from an overinvestment of limited resources in T1 processing. We previously reported that intensive mental training in a style of meditation aimed at reducing elaborate object processing, reduced brain resource allocation to T1, and improved T2 accuracy [Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Francis, A. D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Davis, J., et al. Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PloS Biology, 5, e138, 2007]. Here we report EEG spectral analyses to examine the possibility that this reduction in elaborate T1 processing rendered the system more available to process new target information, as indexed by T2-locked phase variability. Intensive mental training was associated with decreased cross-trial variability in the phase of oscillatory theta activity after successfully detected T2s, in particular, for those individuals who showed the greatest reduction in brain resource allocation to T1. These data implicate theta phase locking in conscious target perception, and suggest that after mental training the cognitive system is more rapidly available to process new target information. Mental training was not associated with changes in the amplitude of T2-induced responses or oscillatory activity before task onset. In combination, these findings illustrate the usefulness of systematic mental training in the study of the human mind by revealing the neural mechanisms that enable the brain to successfully represent target information.
Spatial working memory is a cognitive brain mechanism that enables the temporary maintenance and manipulation of spatial information. Recent neuroimaging and behavioral studies have led to the proposal that directed spatial attention is the mechanism by which location information is maintained in spatial working memory. Yet it is unclear whether attentional involvement is required throughout the period of active maintenance or is only invoked during discrete task-phases such as mnemonic encoding. In the current study, we aimed to track the time-course of attentional involvement during spatial working memory by recording event-related brain potentials (ERPs) from healthy volunteers. In Experiment 1, subjects performed a delayed-recognition task. Each trial began with the presentation of a brief stimulus (S1) that indicated the relevant location that subjects were to maintain in working memory. A 4.8-5.3 sec delay interval followed during which a single task-irrelevant probe was presented. The delay interval concluded with a test item (S2) to which subjects made a response indicating whether the S2-location was the same as the S1-memory location. To determine if attention was differentially engaged during discrete phases of the trial, task-irrelevant probes were presented early (400-800 msec following S1-offset) or late (2600-3000 msec following S1-offset) during the delay interval. Sensory-evoked ERPs (P1 and N1) elicited by these irrelevant probes showed attention-like modulations with greater amplitude responses for probes occurring at the S1-memory locations in comparison to probes presented at other locations. This pattern was obtained for both early- and late-delay probes. Probe-evoked activity during delayed-recognition trials was similar to activity observed when spatial attention was explicitly focused on a location in visual space (Experiment 2). These results are consistent with a model of spatial working memory in which perceptual level selective attention is utilized throughout the entire period of active maintenance to keep relevant spatial information in mind.
<p>This study is an open clinical trial that examined the feasibility and acceptability of a mindfulness training program for anxious children. We based this pilot initiative on a cognitively oriented model, which suggests that, since impaired attention is a core symptom of anxiety, enhancing self-management of attention should effect reductions in anxiety. Mindfulness practices are essentially attention enhancing techniques that have shown promise as clinical treatments for adult anxiety and depression (Baer, 2003). However, little research explores the potential benefits of mindfulness to treat anxious children. The present study provided preliminary support for our model of treating childhood anxiety with mindfulness. A 6-week trial was conducted with five anxious children aged 7 to 8 years old. The results of this study suggest that mindfulness can be taught to children and holds promise as an intervention for anxiety symptoms. Results suggest that clinical improvements may be related to initial levels of attention.</p>
Attention is a central theme in cognitive science — it exemplifies the links between the brain and behaviour, and binds psychology to the techniques of neuroscience. A visionary model suggested by Michael Posner described attention as a set of independent control networks. This challenged the previously held view of attention as a uniform concept. The idea that disparate attentional networks correlate with discrete neural circuitry and can be influenced by focal brain injuries, mental state and specific drugs has since been supported by converging data from several modern methodologies. Given the recent explosion in empirical data, attentional typologies provide powerful conceptual tools with which to contextualize and integrate these findings.
Planned and reflexive behaviors often occur in the presence of emotional stimuli and within the context of an individual's acute emotional state. Therefore, determining the manner in which emotion and attention interact is an important step toward understanding how we function in the real world. Participants in the current investigation viewed centrally displayed, task-irrelevant, face distractors (angry, neutral, happy) while performing a lateralized go/no-go continuous performance task. Lateralized go targets and no-go lures that did not spatially overlap with the faces were employed to differentially probe processing in the left (LH) and right (RH) cerebral hemispheres. There was a significant interaction between expression and hemisphere, with an overall pattern such that angry distractors were associated with relatively more RH inhibitory errors than neutral or happy distractors and happy distractors with relatively more LH inhibitory errors than angry or neutral distractors. Simple effects analyses confirmed that angry faces differentially interfered with RH relative to LH inhibition and with inhibition in the RH relative to happy faces. A significant three-way interaction further revealed that state anxiety moderated relations between emotional expression and hemisphere. Under conditions of low cognitive load, more intense anxiety was associated with relatively greater RH than LH impairment in the presence of both happy and threatening distractors. By contrast, under high load, only angry distractors produced greater RH than LH interference as a function of anxiety.
Research on temporal-order judgments, reference frames, discrimination tasks, and links to oculomotor control suggest important differences between inhibition of return (IOR) and attentional costs and benefits. Yet, it is generally assumed that IOR is an attentional effect even though there is little supporting evidence. The authors evaluated this assumption by examining how several factors that are known to influence attentional costs and benefits affect the magnitude of IOR: target modality, target intensity, and response mode. Results similar to those previously reported for attention were observed: IOR was greater for visual than for auditory targets, showed an inverse relationship with target intensity, and was equivalent for manual and saccadic responses. Important parallels between IOR and attentional costs and benefits are indicated, suggesting that, like attention, IOR may in part affect sensory-perceptual processes.
Do people benefit when they think their partner has made a sacrifice for the relationship? In a multimethod study of 80 couples, we examined whether people can detect when their partner suppresses their emotions and if perceived partner suppression is costly for the recipient of sacrifice. When people listened to their partner recall an important sacrifice in the lab and when people thought their partner sacrificed in daily life, they thought that their partner was less authentic the more they perceived them to have suppressed their emotions. In turn, perceived partner inauthenticity during sacrifice was associated with poorer personal well-being and relationship quality. These effects persisted over time with perceived partner suppression predicting poorer relationship quality 3 months later. The results were independent from the influence of an actor’s projection of their own suppression and their partner’s actual suppression. Implications for research on emotion regulation and close relationships are discussed.