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This study investigated the link between meditation, self-reported mindfulness and cognitive flexibility as well as other attentional functions. It compared a group of meditators experienced in mindfulness meditation with a meditation-naïve control group on measures of Stroop interference and the “d2-concentration and endurance test”. Overall the results suggest that attentional performance and cognitive flexibility are positively related to meditation practice and levels of mindfulness. Meditators performed significantly better than non-meditators on all measures of attention. Furthermore, self-reported mindfulness was higher in meditators than non-meditators and correlations with all attention measures were of moderate to high strength. This pattern of results suggests that mindfulness is intimately linked to improvements of attentional functions and cognitive flexibility. The relevance of these findings for mental balance and well-being are discussed.

Mindfulness-based approaches are increasingly employed as interventions for treating a variety of psychological, psychiatric and physical problems. Such approaches include ancient Buddhist mindfulness meditations such as Vipassana and Zen meditations, modern group-based standardized meditations, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and further psychological interventions, such as dialectical behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. We review commonalities and differences of these interventions regarding philosophical background, main techniques, aims, outcomes, neurobiology and psychological mechanisms. In sum, the currently applied mindfulness-based interventions show large differences in the way mindfulness is conceptualized and practiced. The decision to consider such practices as unitary or as distinct phenomena will probably influence the direction of future research. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Clin Psychol 67:1-21, 2011.

The scientific interest in meditation and mindfulness practice has recently seen an unprecedented surge. After an initial phase of presenting beneficial effects of mindfulness practice in various domains, research is now seeking to unravel the underlying psychological and neurophysiological mechanisms. Advances in understanding these processes are required for improving and fine-tuning mindfulness-based interventions that target specific conditions such as eating disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. This review presents a theoretical framework that emphasizes the central role of attentional control mechanisms in the development of mindfulness skills. It discusses the phenomenological level of experience during meditation, the different attentional functions that are involved, and relates these to the brain networks that subserve these functions. On the basis of currently available empirical evidence specific processes as to how attention exerts its positive influence are considered and it is concluded that meditation practice appears to positively impact attentional functions by improving resource allocation processes. As a result, attentional resources are allocated more fully during early processing phases which subsequently enhance further processing. Neural changes resulting from a pure form of mindfulness practice that is central to most mindfulness programs are considered from the perspective that they constitute a useful reference point for future research. Furthermore, possible interrelations between the improvement of attentional control and emotion regulation skills are discussed.

Mindfulness-based meditation practices involve various attentional skills, including the ability to sustain and focus ones attention. During a simple mindful breathing practice, sustained attention is required to maintain focus on the breath while cognitive control is required to detect mind wandering. We thus hypothesized that regular, brief mindfulness training would result in improvements in the self-regulation of attention and foster changes in neuronal activity related to attentional control. A longitudinal randomized control group EEG study was conducted. At baseline (T1), 40 meditation naïve participants were randomized into a wait list group and a meditation group, who received three hours mindfulness meditation training. Twenty-eight participants remained in the final analysis. At T1, after eight weeks (T2) and after 16 weeks (T3), all participants performed a computerized Stroop task (a measure of attentional control) while the 64-channel EEG was recorded. Between T1 and T3 the meditators were requested to meditate daily for 10 min. Event-related potential (ERP) analysis highlighted two between group effects that developed over the course of the 16-week mindfulness training. An early effect at left and right posterior sites 160–240 ms post-stimulus indicated that meditation practice improved the focusing of attentional resources. A second effect at central posterior sites 310–380 ms post-stimulus reflects that meditation practice reduced the recruitment of resources during object recognition processes, especially for incongruent stimuli. Scalp topographies and source analyses (Variable Resolution Electromagnetic Tomography, VARETA) indicate relevant changes in neural sources, pertaining to left medial and lateral occipitotemporal areas for the early effect and right lateral occipitotemporal and inferior temporal areas for the later effect. The results suggest that mindfulness meditation may alter the efficiency of allocating cognitive resources, leading to improved self-regulation of attention.