Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention

  • Amishi P. JhaEmail author
  • Jason Krompinger
  • Michael J. Baime


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.


Receptive Attention Mindfulness Meditation Conflict Monitoring Retreat Group Attention Network Test 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Astin, J. A. (1997). Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation: Effects on psychological symptomatology, sense of control, and spiritual experiences. Psychotherapy & Psychosomatics, 66, 97–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: A conceptual and empirical review. Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice, 10, 125–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benson, H. (1975). The relaxation response. New York: Morrow.Google Scholar
  4. Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice, 11, 230–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Broadbent, D. E. (1970). Stimulus set and response set: Two kinds of selective attention. In D. I. Mostofsky (Ed.), Attention: Contemporary theory and analysis (pp. 51–60). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
  6. Brown, D. P. (1977). A model for the levels of concentrative meditation. International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, 25, 236–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, D. [P.], Forte, M., & Dysart, M. (1984). Visual sensitivity and mindfulness meditation. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 58, 775–784.Google Scholar
  8. Colcombe, S., Kramer, A., Erickson, K., Scalf, P., McAuley, E., Cohen, N., et al. (2004). Cardiovascular fitness, cortical plasticity, and aging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101, 3316–3321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Corbetta, M., Kincade, J. M., & Shulman, G. L. (2002). Neural systems for visual orienting and their relationships to spatial working memory. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14, 508–523.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Corbetta, M., & Shulman, G. L. (2002). Control of goal-directed and stimulus-driven attention in the brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3, 201–215.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Delmonte, M. M. (1987). Meditation: Contemporary theoretical approaches. In M. A. West (Ed.), The psychology of meditation (pp. 39–58). Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fan, J., Fossella, J., Sommer, T., Wu, Y., & Posner, M. I. (2003). Mapping the genetic variation of executive attention onto brain activity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100, 7406–7411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fan, J., McCandliss, B. D., Fossella, J., Flombaum, J. I., & Posner, M. I. (2005). The activation of attentional networks. NeuroImage, 26, 471–479.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fan, J., McCandliss, B. D., Sommer, T., Raz, A., & Posner, M. I. (2002). Testing the efficiency and independence of attentional networks. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14, 340–347.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Forte, M., Brown, D. P., & Dysart, M. (1987–1988). Differences in experience among mindfulness meditators. Imagination, Cognition, & Personality, 7, 47–60.Google Scholar
  16. Fossella, J., Posner, M., Fan, J., Swanson, J., & Pfaff, D. (2002). Attentional phenotypes for the analysis of higher mental function. Scientific World, 2, 217–223.Google Scholar
  17. Fox, M. D., Corbetta, M., Snyder, A. Z., Vincent, J. L., & Raichle, M. E. (2006). Spontaneous neuronal activity distinguishes human dorsal and ventral attention systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 10046–10051.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2003). Action video game modifies visual selective attention. Nature, 423, 534–537.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35–43.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (15th anniversary ed.). New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.Google Scholar
  21. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Mindfulness meditation for everyday life. New York: Hyperion.Google Scholar
  22. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science & Practice, 10, 144–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., & Burney, R. (1985). The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8, 163–190.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K. E., Pbert, L., et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 936–943.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kapleau, P. (1965). The three pillars of Zen: Teaching, practice, and enlightenment. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  26. Kristeller, J. L., & Hallett, C. B. (1999). An exploratory study of a meditation-based intervention for binge eating disorder. Journal of Health Psychology, 4, 357–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lutz, A., Dunne, J. P., & Davidson, R. J. (in press). Meditation and the neuroscience of consciousness: An introduction. In P. D. Zelazo, M. Moscovitch, & E. Thompson (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of consciousness. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Marlatt, G. A., & Kristeller, J. L. (1999). Mindfulness and meditation. In W. R. Miller (Ed.), Integrating spirituality into treatment: Resources for practitioners (pp. 67–84). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Page, R. C., McAuliffe, E., Weiss, J. F., Ugyan, J., Wright, L. S., & MacLachlan, M. (1997). Self-awareness of participants in a longterm Tibetan Buddhist retreat. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 29, 85–98.Google Scholar
  30. Pfeiffer, W. M. (1966). Konzentrative Selbstentspannung durch Übungen, die sich aus der buddhistischen Atemmeditation und aus der Atemtherapie herleiten [Concentrative self-relaxation by exercises derived from Buddhistic respiration-meditation and from respiration therapy]. Zeitschrift für Psychotherapie & Medizinische Psychologie, 16, 172–181.Google Scholar
  31. Posner, M. I., & Badgaiyan, R. D. (1998). Attention and neural networks. In R. W. Parks, D. S. Levine, & D. L. Long (Eds.), Fundamentals of neural network modeling: Neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience (pp. 61–76). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Posner, M. I., & Gilbert, C. D. (1999). Attention and primary visual cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 96, 2585–2587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Posner, M. I., & Petersen, S. E. (1990). The attention system of the human brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 13, 25–42.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Reuter-Lorenz, P. A., & Stanczak, L. (2000). Differential effects of aging on the functions of the corpus callosum. Developmental Neuropsychology, 18, 113–137.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Robertson, I. H., Tegnér, R., Tham, K., Lo, A., & Nimmo-Smith, I. (1995). Sustained attention training for unilateral neglect: Theoretical and rehabilitation implications. Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology, 17, 416–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rueda, M. R., Rothbart, M. K., McCandliss, B. D., Saccomanno, L., & Posner, M. I. (2005). Training, maturation, and genetic influences on the development of executive attention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, 14931–14936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Semple, R. J. (1999). Enhancing the quality of attention: A comparative assessment of concentrative meditation and progressive relaxation. Unpublished Master’s thesis, University of Auckland, New Zealand.Google Scholar
  38. Smallwood, J., & Schooler, J. W. (2006). The restless mind. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 946–958.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sohlberg, M. M., & Mateer, C. A. (1987). Effectiveness of an attention-training program. Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology, 9, 117–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Speca, M., Carlson, L. E., Goodey, E., & Angen, M. (2000). A randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: The effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 613–622.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Speeth, K. R. (1982). On psychotherapeutic attention. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 14, 141–160.Google Scholar
  42. Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. [V.], & Williams, J. M. G. (1995). How does cognitive therapy prevent depressive relapse and why should attentional control (mindfulness) training help? Behaviour Research & Therapy, 33, 25–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., Ridgeway, V. A., Soulsby, J. M., & Lau, M. A. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 68, 615–623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tori, C. D. (1999). Change on psychological scales following Buddhist and Roman Catholic retreats. Psychological Reports, 84, 125–126.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Trungpa, C. (1975). The myth of freedom and the way of meditation. Boston: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  46. Valentine, E. R., & Sweet, P. L. G. (1999). Meditation and attention: A comparison of the effects of concentrative and mindfulness meditation on sustained attention. Mental Health, Religion, & Culture, 2, 59–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wallace, B. A. (1999). The Buddhist tradition of Samatha: Methods for refining and examining consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, 175–187.Google Scholar
  48. Wenk-Sormaz, H. (2005). Meditation can reduce habitual responding. Advances in Mind—Body Medicine, 21, 33–49.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amishi P. Jha
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jason Krompinger
    • 1
  • Michael J. Baime
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of PsychologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia

Personalised recommendations