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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.
This chapter examines a novel approach to mindfulness training, optimized for high‐stress contexts, called Mindfulness‐based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT).® MMFT follows in the lineage of warrior traditions that train the body and mind to cultivate two foundational warrior qualities—wisdom and bravery. Wisdom is the ability to see clearly how things are right now and then to use that information to make the most effective choice in the moment. Bravery is the ability to stay present with any experience, even an extremely difficult one, without needing for it to be different. Together, these two qualities are a pathway toward effective action in any sphere, but especially in high‐stress environments. In line with this lineage, MMFT cultivates attentional control and tolerance for challenging experience—two capacities important for enhancing performance and building resilience in high‐stress contexts. This chapter examines some of the possible mechanisms by which MMFT may enhance performance and build resilience, while ameliorating the detrimental effects of such environments. Next, it summarizes the empirical research to date about MMFT, with troops preparing for combat deployments. Finally, it compares MMFT to other approaches for cultivating mindfulness.
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.