Amishi P. Jha, Alexandra B. Morrison, Justin Dainer-Best, Suzanne Parker, Nina Rostrup, & Elizabeth A. Stanley. “Minds ‘At Attention’: Mindfulness Training Curbs Mind Wandering in High Stress Cohorts,” PLOS One. (2015). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0116889
We investigated the impact of mindfulness training (MT) on attentional performance lapses associated with task-unrelated thought (i.e., mind wandering). Periods of persistent and intensive demands may compromise attention and increase off-task thinking. Here, we investigated if MT may mitigate these deleterious effects and promote cognitive resilience in military cohorts enduring a high-demand interval of pre-deployment training. To better understand which aspects of MT programs are most beneficial, three military cohorts were examined. Two of the three groups were provided MT. One group received an 8-hour, 8-week variant of Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT) emphasizing engagement in training exercises (training-focused MT, n = 40), a second group received a didactic-focused variant emphasizing content regarding stress and resilience (didactic-focused MT, n = 40), and the third group served as a no-training control (NTC, n = 24). Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) performance was indexed in all military groups and a no-training civilian group (CIV, n = 45) before (T1) and after (T2) the MT course period. Attentional performance (measured by A’, a sensitivity index) was lower in NTC vs. CIV at T2, suggesting that performance suffers after enduring a high-demand pre-deployment interval relative to a similar time period of civilian life. Yet, there were significantly fewer performance lapses in the military cohorts receiving MT relative to NTC, with training-focused MT outperforming didactic-focused MT at T2. From T1 to T2, A’ degraded in NTC and didactic-focused MT but remained stable in training-focused MT and CIV. In sum, while protracted periods of high-demand military training may increase attentional performance lapses, practice-focused MT programs akin to training-focused MT may bolster attentional performance more than didactic-focused programs. As such, training-focused MT programs should be further examined in cohorts experiencing protracted high-demand intervals.