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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.
We investigate if concentrative meditation training (CMT) offered during adolescent development benefits subsystems of attention using a quasi-experimental design. Attentional alerting, orienting, and conflict monitoring were examined using the Attention Network Test (ANT) in 13-15 year old children who received CMT as part of their school curriculum (CMT group: N = 79) vs. those who received no such training (control group: N = 76). Alerting and conflict monitoring, but not orienting, differed between the CMT and control group. Only conflict monitoring demonstrated age-related improvements, with smaller conflict effect scores in older vs. younger participants. The influence of CMT on this system was similar to the influence of developmental maturity, with smaller conflict effects in the CMT vs. control group. To examine if CMT might also bolster conflict-triggered upregulation of attentional control, conflict effects were evaluated as a function of previous trial conflict demands (high conflict vs. low conflict). Smaller current-trial conflict effects were observed when previous conflict was high vs. low, suggesting that similar to adults, when previous conflict was high (vs. low) children in this age-range proactively upregulated control so that subsequent trial performance was benefitted. The magnitude of conflict-triggered control upregulation was not bolstered by CMT but CMT did have an effect for current incongruent trials preceded by congruent trials. Thus, CMT's influence on attention may be tractable and specific; it may bolster attentional alerting, conflict monitoring and reactive control, but does not appear to improve orienting.
Current military deployments have resulted in many psychological and physical health issues and created interest in protective measures to mitigate effects of prolonged and repetitive stress. Mindfulness training has been successfully used for stress reduction in other contexts. The following case report presents a detachment of U.S. Marines who received Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT) prior to deployment. Self-report measures of mindfulness, perceptions of stress, predictors of compliance with mindfulness practice, and time spent engaging in practice were indexed. More time spent engaging in practice corresponded with greater self-reported mindfulness; increases in mindfulness were associated with decreases in perceived stress.
Dynamic adjustments in cognitive control are well documented in conflict tasks, wherein competition from irrelevant stimulus attributes intensifies selection demands and leads to subsequent performance benefits. The current study investigated whether mnemonic demands, in a working memory (WM) task, can drive similar online control modifications. Demand levels (high vs. low) of WM maintenance (memory load of 2 items vs. 1 item) and delay-spanning distractor interference (confusable vs. not confusable with memoranda) were manipulated using a factorial design during a WM delayed-recognition task. Performance was best subsequent to trials in which both maintenance and distractor interference demands were high, followed by trials with high demand in either of these 2 control domains, and worst following trials with low demand in both domains. These results suggest that dynamic adjustments in cognitive control are not triggered exclusively by conflict-specific contexts but are also triggered by WM demands, revealing a putative mechanism by which this system configures itself for successful task performance.