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Mindfulness and Attention: Current State-of-Affairs and Future Considerations

Abstract

This review examines longitudinal studies of changes in components of attention following mindfulness training. A total of 57 retreat studies, non-randomized trials, and randomized controlled trials were identified. Employing the classical taxonomy proposed by Posner and Petersen (Annual Review of Neuroscience, 13(1), 25–42, 1990), outcome measures were broadly categorized based on whether they involved maintenance of an aroused state (alerting), selective prioritization of attention to target items (orienting), or assessed conflict monitoring (executive attention). Although many non-randomized and retreat studies provide promising evidence of gains in both alerting and conflict monitoring following mindfulness training, evidence from randomized controlled trials, especially those involving active control comparison groups, is more mixed. This review calls attention to the urgent need in our field of contemplative sciences to adopt the methodological rigor necessary for establishing mindfulness meditation as an effective cognitive rehabilitation tool. Although studies including wait-listed control comparisons were fruitful in providing initial feasibility data and pre-post effect sizes, there is a pressing need to employ standards that have been heavily advocated for in the broader cognitive and physical training literatures. Critically, inclusion of active comparison groups and explicit attention to the reduction of demand characteristics are needed to disentangle the effects of placebo from treatment. Further, detailed protocols for mindfulness and control groups and examination of theoretically guided outcome variables with established metrics for reliability and validity are key ingredients in the systematic study of mindfulness meditation. Adoption of such methodological rigor will allow for causal claims supporting mindfulness training as an efficacious treatment modality for cognitive rehabilitation and enhancement.

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Correspondence to Ruchika Shaurya Prakash.

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Prakash, R.S., Fountain-Zaragoza, S., Kramer, A.F. et al. Mindfulness and Attention: Current State-of-Affairs and Future Considerations. J Cogn Enhanc 4, 340–367 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-019-00144-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-019-00144-5

Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Attention
  • Rigorous randomized controlled trials