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Many of us go through our daily lives on autopilot, not fully aware of our conscious experiences. In a discussion moderated by Steve Paulson, executive producer and host of To the Best of Our Knowledge, neuroscientists Richard Davidson and Amishi Jha and clinical mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn explore the role of consciousness in mental and physical health, how we can train our minds to be more flexible and adaptable, and cutting-edge neuroscience findings about the transformation of consciousness through mindfulness and contemplative practice. The following is an edited transcript of the discussion that occurred February 6, 2013, 7:00-8:15 PM, at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.

Many of us go through our daily lives on autopilot, not fully aware of our conscious experiences. In a discussion moderated by Steve Paulson, executive producer and host of To the Best of Our Knowledge, neuroscientists Richard Davidson and Amishi Jha and clinical mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn explore the role of consciousness in mental and physical health, how we can train our minds to be more flexible and adaptable, and cutting-edge neuroscience findings about the transformation of consciousness through mindfulness and contemplative practice. The following is an edited transcript of the discussion that occurred February 6, 2013, 7:00-8:15 PM, at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.
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This article draws on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These putative beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most effective for which types of children and adolescents. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.
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This article draws on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These putative beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most effective for which types of children and adolescents. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.

This article draws on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These putative beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most effective for which types of children and adolescents. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.

This article draws on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These putative beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most effective for which types of children and adolescents. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.
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The effects of randomization to mindfulness training (MT) or to a waitlist-control condition on psychological and physiological indicators of teachers’ occupational stress and burnout were examined in 2 field trials. The sample included 113 elementary and secondary school teachers (89% female) from Canada and the United States. Measures were collected at baseline, post-program, and 3-month follow-up; teachers were randomly assigned to condition after baseline assessment. Results showed that 87% of teachers completed the program and found it beneficial. Teachers randomized to MT showed greater mindfulness, focused attention and working memory capacity, and occupational self-compassion, as well as lower levels of occupational stress and burnout at post-program and follow-up, than did those in the control condition. No statistically significant differences due to MT were found for physiological measures of stress. Mediational analyses showed that group differences in mindfulness and self-compassion at post-program mediated reductions in stress and burnout as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression at follow-up. Implications for teaching and learning are discussed.
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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.
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