Posted: 10.07.2014 | by AMRA

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Attentional regulation is the ability to focus on relevant information in the face of distraction. Although good attentional regulation can help inoculate school-age children against the negative impacts of stress, poor parenting, and deleterious peer group influences, there have been relatively few attempts to enhance it through intervention.

Felver et al. [Journal of Attention Disorders] studied the impact of Mindful Family Stress Reduction (MFSR) on children’s attentional regulation using an 8-week long family-centered intervention adapted from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Forty-seven child-parent pairs (average child age = 11 years) were randomly assigned to either the MFSR program or a wait-list control. While the parents engaged in traditional MBSR practices, the children engaged in more age-appropriate attentional activities that fostered present-moment awareness. For example, the “sound scavenger hunt” challenged the children to discover how many different sounds they could hear in a five-minute period while sitting quietly with eyes closed.

The children were pre- and post-tested on an Attention Network Task (ANT), in which they viewed a series of computer-presented arrows, and depending on the arrows’ right-left spatial orientation, responded with either their right or left index fingers. In the process of doing this, the children had to both ignore on-screen visual distractions and utilize helpful visual cues, so that the task required both sustained and selective attention. Using the various ANT challenges, the researchers assessed three different aspects of attention: alerting (being prepared to receive a stimulus), orienting (directing attention toward a stimulus), and conflict monitoring (selectively attending to a relevant stimulus).

Children in the MFSR group showed significantly greater improvement in their conflict monitoring than did waitlist controls. This effect was of moderate size. They also showed a non-significant trend toward greater improvement in orienting reaction times, although not in alerting reaction times. Findings support the potential of mindfulness training for improving children’s attentional regulation skills — a crucial underlying factor in both cognitive development and emotional resilience.

Reference:

Felver, J. C., Tipsord, J. M., Morris, M. J., Racer, K. H., & Dishion, T. J. (2014). The effects of mindfulness-based intervention on children’s attention regulation. Journal of Attention Disorders.

[Link to abstract]