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We investigated the impact of mindfulness training (MT) on working memory capacity (WMC) and affective experience. WMC is used in managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet, persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals, may deplete WMC and lead to cognitive failures and emotional disturbances. We hypothesized that MT may mitigate these deleterious effects by bolstering WMC. We recruited 2 military cohorts during the high-stress predeployment interval and provided MT to 1 (MT, n = 31) but not the other group (military control group, MC, n = 17). The MT group attended an 8-week MT course and logged the amount of out-of-class time spent practicing formal MT exercises. The operation span task was used to index WMC at 2 testing sessions before and after the MT course. Although WMC remained stable over time in civilians (n = 12), it degraded in the MC group. In the MT group, WMC decreased over time in those with low MT practice time, but increased in those with high practice time. Higher MT practice time also corresponded to lower levels of negative affect and higher levels of positive affect (indexed by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule). The relationship between practice time and negative, but not positive, affect was mediated by WMC, indicating that MT-related improvements in WMC may support some but not all of MT's salutary effects. Nonetheless, these findings suggest that sufficient MT practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress contexts.
Neuroscientist Amishi Jha discusses how the different qualities of mindfulness meditation can help to reduce stress.
There has been a great increase in literature concerned with the effects of a variety of mental training regimes that generally fall within what might be called contemplative practices, and a majority of these studies have focused on mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation practices can be conceptualized as a set of attention-based, regulatory, and self-inquiry training regimes cultivated for various ends, including wellbeing and psychological health. This article examines the construct of mindfulness in psychological research and reviews recent, nonclinical work in this area. Instead of proposing a single definition of mindfulness, we interpret it as a continuum of practices involving states and processes that can be mapped into a multidimensional phenomenological matrix which itself can be expressed in a neurocognitive framework. This phenomenological matrix of mindfulness is presented as a heuristic to guide formulation of next-generation research hypotheses from both cognitive/behavioral and neuroscientific perspectives. In relation to this framework, we review selected findings on mindfulness cultivated through practices in traditional and research settings, and we conclude by identifying significant gaps in the literature and outline new directions for research.
We investigated the impact of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training (CBT/MT) on attentional task performance in incarcerated adolescents. Attention is a cognitive system necessary for managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals like incarceration and the events leading to incarceration, may deplete attention resulting in cognitive failures, emotional disturbances, and impulsive behavior. We hypothesized that CBT/MT may mitigate these deleterious effects of high stress and protect against degradation in attention over the high-stress interval of incarceration. Using a quasi-experimental, group randomized controlled trial design, we randomly assigned dormitories of incarcerated youth, ages 16–18, to a CBT/MT intervention (youth n = 147) or an active control intervention (youth n = 117). Both arms received approximately 750 min of intervention in a small-group setting over a 3–5 week period. Youth in the CBT/MT arm also logged the amount of out-of-session time spent practicing MT exercises. The Attention Network Test was used to index attentional task performance at baseline and 4 months post-baseline. Overall, task performance degraded over time in all participants. The magnitude of performance degradation was significantly less in the CBT/MT vs. control arm. Further, within the CBT/MT arm, performance degraded over time in those with no outside-of-class practice time, but remained stable over time in those who practiced mindfulness exercises outside of the session meetings. Thus, these findings suggest that sufficient CBT/MT practice may protect against functional attentional impairments associated with high-stress intervals.
Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in the present moment. We investigate the hypothesis that mindfulness training may alter or enhance specific aspects of attention. We examined three functionally and neuroanatomically distinct but overlapping attentional subsystems: alerting, orienting, and conflict monitoring. Functioning of each subsystem was indexed by performance on the Attention Network Test (ANT; Fan, McCandliss, Sommer, Raz, & Posner, 2002). Two types of mindfulness training (MT) programs were examined, and behavioral testing was conducted on participants before (Time 1) and after (Time 2) training. One training group consisted of individuals naive to mindfulness techniques who participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course that emphasized the development of concentrative meditation skills. The other training group consisted of individuals experienced in concentrative meditation techniques who participated in a 1-month intensive mindfulness retreat. Performance of these groups was compared with that of control participants who were meditation naive and received no MT. At Time 1, the participants in the retreat group demonstrated improved conflict monitoring performance relative to those in the MBSR and control groups. At Time 2, the participants in the MBSR course demonstrated significantly improved orienting in comparison with the control and retreat participants. In contrast, the participants in the retreat group demonstrated altered performance on the alerting component, with improvements in exogenous stimulus detection in comparison with the control and MBSR participants. The groups did not differ in conflict monitoring performance at Time 2. These results suggest that mindfulness training may improve attention-related behavioral responses by enhancing functioning of specific subcomponents of attention. Whereas participation in the MBSR course improved the ability to endogenously orient attention, retreat participation appeared to allow for the development and emergence of receptive attentional skills, which improved exogenous alerting-related process.
Attention is critical for successful performance in demanding real-world situations. Yet, protracted periods of high demand may compromise attention and increase off-task thinking. Herein, we investigate if mindfulness training (MT) may promote cognitive resilience by curbing attentional lapses in high-stress cohorts. Two military cohorts were recruited during their high-stress predeployment interval. Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT)® was provided to one group (MT, N = 31) but not the other group (military control group, MC, N = 24). The MT group attended an 8-week MMFT® course and logged the amount of out-of-class time spent practicing formal MT exercises. The Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) was used to index objective attentional performance and subjective ratings of mind wandering before (T1) and after (T2) the MT course. In the MT group, changes in SART measures correlated with the amount of time spent engaging in MT homework practice, with greater objective performance benefits (indexed by A′, a sensitivity measure), and reduced subjective reports of mind wandering over time in those who engaged in high practice vs. low practice. Performance measures in the low practice and MC groups significantly declined from T1 to T2. In contrast, the high practice group remained stable over time. These results suggest that engaging in sufficient MT practice may protect against attentional lapses over high-demand intervals. Based on these results, we argue that MT programs emphasizing greater engagement in mindfulness practice should be further investigated as a route by which to build cognitive resilience in high-stress cohorts.
Mindfulness training (MT) is a form of mental training in which individuals engage in exercises to cultivate an attentive, present centered, and non-reactive mental mode. The present study examines the putative benefits of MT in University students for whom mind wandering can interfere with learning and academic success. We tested the hypothesis that short-form MT (7 h over 7 weeks) contextualized for the challenges and concerns of University students may reduce mind wandering and improve working memory. Performance on the sustained attention to response task (SART) and two working memory tasks (operation span, delayed-recognition with distracters) was indexed in participants assigned to a waitlist control group or the MT course. Results demonstrated MT-related benefits in SART performance. Relative to the control group, MT participants had higher task accuracy and self-reported being more “on-task” after the 7-week training period. MT did not significantly benefit the operation span task or accuracy on the delayed-recognition task. Together these results suggest that while short-form MT did not bolster working memory task performance, it may help curb mind wandering and should, therefore, be further investigated for its use in academic contexts.