Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention

Abstract

Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in the present moment. We investigate the hypothesis that mindfulness training may alter or enhance specific aspects of attention. We examined three functionally and neuroanatomically distinct but overlapping attentional subsystems: alerting, orienting, and conflict monitoring. Functioning of each subsystem was indexed by performance on the Attention Network Test (ANT; Fan, McCandliss, Sommer, Raz, & Posner, 2002). Two types of mindfulness training (MT) programs were examined, and behavioral testing was conducted on participants before (Time 1) and after (Time 2) training. One training group consisted of individuals naive to mindfulness techniques who participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course that emphasized the development of concentrative meditation skills. The other training group consisted of individuals experienced in concentrative meditation techniques who participated in a 1-month intensive mindfulness retreat. Performance of these groups was compared with that of control participants who were meditation naive and received no MT. At Time 1, the participants in the retreat group demonstrated improved conflict monitoring performance relative to those in the MBSR and control groups. At Time 2, the participants in the MBSR course demonstrated significantly improved orienting in comparison with the control and retreat participants. In contrast, the participants in the retreat group demonstrated altered performance on the alerting component, with improvements in exogenous stimulus detection in comparison with the control and MBSR participants. The groups did not differ in conflict monitoring performance at Time 2. These results suggest that mindfulness training may improve attention-related behavioral responses by enhancing functioning of specific subcomponents of attention. Whereas participation in the MBSR course improved the ability to endogenously orient attention, retreat participation appeared to allow for the development and emergence of receptive attentional skills, which improved exogenous alerting-related process.

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Correspondence to Amishi P. Jha.

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This research was supported by NIH Grant NCCAM 1 R21 AT002761 and funding from the Penn Program for Stress Management.

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Jha, A.P., Krompinger, J. & Baime, M.J. Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience 7, 109–119 (2007). https://doi.org/10.3758/CABN.7.2.109

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Keywords

  • Receptive Attention
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Conflict Monitoring
  • Retreat Group
  • Attention Network Test