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Mindfulness curriculum promotes prosocial behavior in preschoolers

Posted: 12.15.2014 | by AMRA


Young children’s capacity to self-regulate attention and emotion contributes to their scholastic success and predicts their academic attainment. There is a need for programs that enhance children’s self-regulation skills, and mindfulness-based interventions that promote sustained attention, self-monitoring, and cognitive flexibility may be good candidates. Flook et al. [Developmental Psychology] developed a mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum (KC) for preschool-aged children and tested its ability to improve their executive functioning, self-regulation, and academic and social development.

Sixty-eight ethnically-diverse children in 6 urban Midwestern preschools were randomly assigned to either KC or a wait-list control condition. KC was administered in two 20-30 minute weekly sessions over 12 weeks, and emphasized mindfulness, empathy, gratitude and sharing through multiple modalities including music, children’s literature, and movement. The children were tested immediately before and after the program on behavioral tasks of willingness to share and willingness to delay gratification, and computerized tasks of cognitive flexibility and freedom from distraction. Their teachers rated their social competence before and after the intervention and assigned routine report card grades three months after program completion.

The KC children showed significantly greater improvement in their teacher-rated prosocial behavior (Cohen’s d = 0.29) and emotional regulation (d = 0.25), than did the control children. The KC children also showed significantly greater report card improvement on Approaches to Learning (d = 0.54), Health and Physical Development (d = 0.56), and Social and Emotional Development (d = 0.97).

On the willingness-to-share task (a task involving the children dividing up ten stickers between themselves and their peers), control children displayed significantly more selfish behavior over time, reserving more of the stickers for themselves, while the KC children did not display […]

December 15th, 2014|News|

Family mindfulness program improves children’s attention

Posted: 10.07.2014 | by AMRA


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 […]

November 5th, 2014|News|

Meditation Reduces Pain Elaboration

Posted from archive: 01.02.2014 | by AMRA


Grant [Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences] reviewed recent experimental studies of the effects of focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM) meditation on pain perception. FA meditations require sustained attention on a focal stimulus (e.g., the breath or a mantra), whereas OM meditations involve sustained attention on the monitoring process itself (e.g., dzogchen or choiceless awareness). Experimental support for FA’s analgesic effect is somewhat weak and inconsistent. However, there is mounting support for OM’s ability to attenuate pain.

Studies from three independent laboratories demonstrated that OM meditators show increased neural activity in their pain processing centers (e.g., the somatosensory cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and insula) and decreased activity in brain regions associated with elaborative mental processes (e.g., the various prefrontal cortical regions) when confronted with a painful stimulus. One study of Zen practitioners also showed that experienced meditators had decreased functional connectivity between these brain regions, and the less the functional connectivity, the lower their pain sensitivity.

An analysis of pain ratings and neural activity indicated that OM-mediated analgesia is due neither to distraction nor to opioid system activation, but to decreased elaborative cognitive activity. The author argued that sustained present-moment attention to sensory processes precludes the formation of mental narratives, cognitive appraisals, and self-related processes that exacerbate pain. He also noted that increases in parasympathetic activity and decreases in limbic-mediated fear conditioning may also underlie OM’s analgesic effects.


Grant, J. A. (2013). Meditative analgesia: The current state of the field. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307:55-63. [PMID: 24673150]

[Link to abstract]

January 26th, 2014|News|

Stress But Not Pain Perception Reduced from Focused Attention

Posted from archive: 12.24.2013 | by AMRA



Is mindfulness then more effective in reducing pain and stress than simple relaxation alone? Feuille and Pargament [Journal of Health Psychology] conducted a randomized controlled trial comparing standardized mindfulness (STM), spiritualized mindfulness (SPM), and simple relaxation in a cohort of 74 migraine sufferers. Participants underwent a brief, single-session training in STM, SPM, or simple relaxation, in which they received only 5 to 7 minutes of guided practice and then practiced their assigned technique at home for 20 minutes a day over two weeks. The STM and SPM conditions were identical, except for the inclusion of a spiritually oriented rationale in the SPM condition, which was untied to theism or the beliefs of any specific religion.

Both meditation groups employed focused attention to the breath without an open monitoring component. At the study’s 
pain tolerance 
was evaluated 
by a cold 
pressor task 
assessing their 
ability to 
maintain their 
hand in icy cold 
water for as long 
as they could tolerate, and their pain, stress, and mindfulness (as measured by the Toronto Mindfulness Scale) were rated during the procedure. Both meditation groups reported significantly lower stress than the simple relaxation group, but none of the groups differed in their pain perception or tolerance. SPM participants had a greater sense of connection to the sacred and experienced higher levels of mindfulness, but the STM and simple relaxation participants failed to differ from each other on those measures.

Very brief meditation training did not alter pain perception and tolerance in this study, which is consistent with findings that focused attention is not as effective as open monitoring in reducing pain, but it may also […]

January 25th, 2014|News|

Findings from the 11th Scientific Conference of the UMASS Center for Mindfulness

Posted from archive: 05.14.2013 | by AMRA


Nearly 450 researchers, MBSR teachers, and clinicians assembled for the 11th Annual International Scientific Conference of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society this April in Norwood, Massachusetts. Presentations by Norman Farb, Ph.D., Wendy Hasenkamp, Ph.D., David Creswell, Ph.D., Eileen Luders, Ph.D. and David Vago, Ph.D. focused on the neuropsychological correlates of mindfulness. Each of the researchers presented data from past studies along with new findings from as yet unpublished work.

Norman Farb presented MRI data on two opposing neural systems: the interoceptive pathway where bodily awareness is represented, and the default network which is often associated with self, referential narrative awareness and mind wandering. He presented studies showing that MBSR training is associated with increased recruitment of the interoceptive awareness pathway along with increased connectivity of the posterior insula (a key component of that pathway) to the prefrontal cortex. This increased connectivity had both state and trait features.

Wendy Hasenkamp’s MRI research showed how different neural networks are deployed during different moments of focused meditation, depending on whether focus is established, the mind wanders off focus, the mind becomes aware of wandering, or the mind re-establishes its focus. She identified activity in the brain’s default network during mind wandering, activity in a neural salience network with awareness of mind wandering, and activity in a neural executive network for shifting and maintaining focus. More experienced meditators had increased resting-state functional connectivity between the right insula and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the bilateral inferior parietal lobe, suggesting increased functional connectivity within and between attentional networks. Experienced meditators also showed decreased ventromedial prefrontal activity while shifting […]

January 1st, 2014|News|