Improve Brain Systems Underlying Sustained Attention in Sixth Graders with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“research suggests that mindfulness meditation can increase awareness of our thoughts, or meta-cognitive awareness, as well as regulate emotion, enhance attention and reduce stress. These changes can also be detected in the brain.” – B. Grace Bullock
Childhood is a miraculous period during which the child is dynamically absorbing information from every aspect of its environment. This is particularly evident during the elementary school years. Mindfulness training in school has been shown to have very positive effects. These include improvements in the academic, cognitive, psychological, and social domains. Importantly, mindfulness training in school appears to improve attentional ability which is fundamental to success in all aspects of academic performance.
There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. Hence, it is important to further study the impact of mindfulness training on the development of attentional ability and associated brain mechanisms in elementary school children.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness training preserves sustained attention and resting state anticorrelation between default-mode network and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex: A randomized controlled trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7670646/ ) Bauer and colleagues recruited 6th grade students and randomly assigned them to receive 45 minute 4 times per week for 8 weeks mindfulness or computer coding training. They were measured before and after training for sustained attention with a 15-minute go-no-go task and had their brains scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).
They found in comparison to baseline and the computer coding group that the mindfulness training produced a significant improvement in sustained attention (Go accuracy) while the computer coding group had a significant decrease in accuracy. The brain scans revealed an anticorrelation between the Default Mode Network (DMN) of the brain and the Central Executive Network (CEN), such that as one becomes active the other becomes less active.
This anticorrelation was related to baseline sustained attention, with better sustained attention correlated with greater anticorrelation. They also found that after mindfulness training the anticorrelation was maintained while it decreased in the computer coding group. In addition, they found that the greater the increase in sustained attention after mindfulness training, the greater the increase in the anticorrelation while this was not true for the compute coding group.
The Default Mode Network (DMN) of the brain is a set of interconnected brain structures that is thought to be involved in mind wandering, thoughts not related to the task at hand, while the Central Executive Network (CEN) of the brain is a set of interconnected brain structures that is thought to be involved in high level thinking and attention to the task at hand. The anticorrelation between the two systems indicates that as the brain system underlying attention becomes stronger the brain system underlying mind wandering becomes weaker and vice versa. The strengthening of the anticorrelation indicates better neural processing ability by segregating mind wandering from attention, resulting in better sustained attention.
The results suggest that mindfulness training in 6th graders improves sustained attention by improving the brain systems underlying sustained attention with the greater the improvement in attention the greater the increase in the anticorrelation. These results indicate how mindfulness training may improve attention in these children. They suggest that mindfulness training improves neural processing which in turn improves the children’s attentional ability. Although not investigated, improvement in attention should result in better academic performance.
So, improve brain systems underlying sustained attention in sixth graders with mindfulness.
“a brief 10-min guided mindfulness meditation instruction period can improve executive attentional control even in naïve, inexperienced meditators.” – Catherine Norris
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch
Bauer, C., Rozenkrantz, L., Caballero, C., Nieto-Castanon, A., Scherer, E., West, M. R., Mrazek, M., Phillips, D. T., Gabrieli, J., & Whitfield-Gabrieli, S. (2020). Mindfulness training preserves sustained attention and resting state anticorrelation between default-mode network and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex: A randomized controlled trial. Human brain mapping, 41(18), 5356–5369. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.25197
Mindfulness training can enhance cognitive control, but the neural mechanisms underlying such enhancement in children are unknown. Here, we conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with sixth graders (mean age 11.76 years) to examine the impact of 8 weeks of school‐based mindfulness training, relative to coding training as an active control, on sustained attention and associated resting‐state functional brain connectivity. At baseline, better performance on a sustained‐attention task correlated with greater anticorrelation between the default mode network (DMN) and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a key node of the central executive network. Following the interventions, children in the mindfulness group preserved their sustained‐attention performance (i.e., fewer lapses of attention) and preserved DMN–DLPFC anticorrelation compared to children in the active control group, who exhibited declines in both sustained attention and DMN–DLPFC anticorrelation. Further, change in sustained‐attention performance correlated with change in DMN–DLPFC anticorrelation only within the mindfulness group. These findings provide the first causal link between mindfulness training and both sustained attention and associated neural plasticity. Administered as a part of sixth graders’ school schedule, this RCT supports the beneficial effects of school‐based mindfulness training on cognitive control.