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The ability to attend and to exercise cognitive control are vital aspects of human adaptability. Several studies indicate that attention training using computer based exercises can lead to improved attention in children and adults. Randomized control studies of exposure to nature, mindfulness and integrative body-mind training (IBMT) yield improved attention and self-regulation. Here, we ask how attention training and attention state training might be similar and different in their training methods, neural mechanisms and behavioral outcomes. Together these various methods lead to practical ways of improving attention and self-regulation.
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Attention training and attention state
Yi-Yuan Tang
and Michael I. Posner
Institute of Neuroinformatics, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian 116024, China
Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA
The ability to attend and to exercise cognitive control are
vital aspects of human adaptability. Several studies
indicate that attention training using computer based
exercises can lead to improved attention in children and
adults. Randomized control studies of exposure to
nature, mindfulness and integrative body-mind training
(IBMT) yield improved attention and self-regulation.
Here, we ask how attention training and attention state
training might be similar and different in their training
methods, neural mechanisms and behavioral outcomes.
Together these various methods lead to practical ways
of improving attention and self-regulation.
Improving attention
A very diverse set of training methods have been shown to
improve aspects of attention and self- regulation. These
methods could be classified into two different groups, based
on their origin: methods arising from Asian traditions (e.g.
integrative body-mind training [IBMT] and mindfulness)
and methods developed in Europe and the USA (practice).
Probably because these two groups of methods originate in
separate traditions, there has been no published discus-
sion of the similarities and differences between them and
the mechanisms underlying them. More detailed under-
standing of these methods might allow for better choices in
program design and lead to their integration in practical
applications for children, adults and elderly populations
who wish to improve these skills.
Here, we have chosen to discuss these two groups of
methods under the headings attention training (AT) and
attention state training (AST). This is partly because the
goal of the western approach has been to alter specific
networks related to cognitive tasks, whereas the eastern
approach has been to achieve a state leading to more
efficient self-regulation. Different ways of categorizing
these methods would, of course, be possible, but by com-
paring them along these lines, we hope to provide an
informative overview of the results obtained with these
methods and to provide a principled basis for testing the
similarity and differences between their mechanisms and
A closer look at AT and AST
Several studies featuring random assignment to exper-
imental and control groups involve training of attention
and memory and show improvement in both specific skills
closely related to the training and to more general cogni-
tive abilities [14]. All of these methods involve practice in
some cognitive skill by repetitive trials on tasks similar to
those used in schools or cognitive psychology laboratories.
All of these studies aim for long term improvement in
attention, but in most cases only short term improvements
close to the training have been well studied.
On the surface, these AT methods differ considerably
from mindfulness training, exposure to nature settings or
IBMT, which we group as AST. Recently, both IBMT
(emphasizing body-mind balance) and nature exposure
(using attention restoration theory) have used randomized
designs with attention measures similar to those used with
AT and have also shown significantly greater improve-
ments in attention following training than those from
control groups (Figure 1). Similar to studies of AT, these
studies aim at long-term improvements. An attentional
assay used for both types of study is the attention network
test (ANT), which we present in more detail in Box 1.
AT means practice in conflict-related tasks, working mem-
ory tasks or other tasks involving executive control mech-
anisms. These tasks often use repetitive trials that involve
executive control or, in some cases, use curricula designed
with the goal of exercising control mechanisms. Mental
exercise in this form of training requires directed attention
and effortful control to train specific brain networks [710].
Child AT studies
Several studies of AT have involved children, on the
assumption that this might influence later school perform-
ance. For example, one experiment [4] examined the effi-
ciency of attentional networks in 4- and 6-year-old children
before and after 5 days of computer exercises. The exercises
included learning to use a joystick, prediction, working
memory and the resolution of conflict. They were designed
to require executive attention and were compared with
interactive video experience for control groups. Greater
improvement in the executive attention network and in IQ
was found in the experimental group in comparison to the
control group. There were no differences between the
groups, however, on a questionnaire [11] that dealt with
various temperamental characteristics such as negative
and positive affect.
Another study with young children has been carried out
in classrooms using a curriculum designed to exercise
executive control individually and in groups. Improve-
ments in tasks involving conflict resolution were obtained
Corresponding authors: Tang, Y.-Y. (;
Posner, M.I. (
222 1364-6613/$ see front matter ß2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2009.01.009 Available online 16 April 2009
and these generalized widely to other domains, such as
inhibitory control and working memory [1].
Experiments involving working memory training have
been carried out with older children who have been diag-
nosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
[12]. Training working memory not only improved that
function but improvements were also found in an IQ test
based on the Ravens Progressive Matrices Test.
Adult AT studies
Because attention networks often show rapid development
during childhood [4], improved performance due to AT
might be expected to be confined to children, but that
proved not to be the case. One adult study compared
habitual video-game (except violent action game) players
and non-players, finding that action-video-game players
had improved ability to take in and manipulate visual
information [2]. This finding was confirmed with a ten-
hour training study in which students randomly assigned
to video games out-performed controls in several visual
tasks, including improved visual resolution [9].
Recently it has been shown that working memory train-
ing in adults can generalize to other cognitive tasks. One
study demonstrated adult improvement in more general
cognitive abilities (fluid intelligence) after practice on a
working memory task [3]. The extent of gain in intelligence
depended on the amount of training.
Findings in a variety of functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) studies of overlapping activation in ventral
lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) during memory tasks indi-
cated that the memory tasks share common executive
components [3,10,34]. One training regimen of working
memory tasks and a set of transfer tasks were developed
to examine the trainability of executive control process
[10]. The study was unique in choosing to train a brain area
already shown to be activated by tasks sharing a common
executive component. Results indicated that executive
control can be improved by working memory training
and that this transfers to a wide variety of tasks.
Overall, these results establish that training of atten-
tion is possible in children and adults, improving attention
and working memory and IQ tests measuring aspects of
performance quite different from those involved in the
training. There is no evidence thus far that this training
improves self- or parent-reported moods or behaviors. This
difference between cognitive and emotional changes, how-
ever, might be because of the fact that investigators have
usually only tested cognitive tasks.
AST refers to changes in state that accompany certain
forms of experience such as meditation or exposure to
nature. These methods have in common an altered state
of mind and body but they use different sensory inputs to
achieve their effects on mind and body and improve
performance. Several of these studies have used random-
ized assignment between experimental and control
groups and often they have used cognitive assays that
overlap those used in AT tasks. They also include
measures of self-regulation such as mood and response
to stress [1315].
Figure 1. Attentional networks comparison for exposure to nature and IBMT. (a) Performance on the ANT after exposure to nature scenes or exposure to urban scenes,
N=12, [14].(b) Performance on the ANT after IBMT or relaxation control, N=40, [15]. The vertical axis indicates the difference in mean RTs for alerting, orienting and conflict
scores. For conflict score, the higher score shows less efficient performance. Bars indicate 1 standard error.
Box 1. ANT
ANT is an attentional assay that uses the Ericksen flanker task [5]
as a target [6] (Figure I).
The ANT requires participants to determine whether a central
arrow points left or right. Participants press the left key if the
central arrows point left and the right key if they point right.
Prior to a target, cues are used to provide information about when
and where the target will be presented.
Three subtractions provide scores for alerting, orienting and time
to resolve conflict (executive attention). The measure of the
efficiency of conflict resolution (executive attention) is given by
subtracting the congruent RTs from the incongruent RTs. The
alerting measure is given by subtracting the double cue (asterisks
above and below fixation) from the no cue condition; the orienting
measure by subtracting the RTs when the cue is at the target
location from those where it is presented at fixation.
Figure I. The Ericksen flanker task is a paradigm in which participants are
asked to respond to a centered and directed item surrounded or flanked by
distracting symbols like arrows or letters. Congruent flanking arrows all
point in the same direction; incongruent flanking arrows point in different
directions. Congruency affects the speed and accuracy with which the task is
Review Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol.13 No.5
Exposure to nature
When people are required to focus their attention and put
forth sustained cognitive effort, there is a possibility of
mental fatigue. Attention restoration theory was proposed
by Kaplan [16,17] to highlight the benefits of exposure to
nature to restore directed attention. Mental restoration
seems to work by encouraging a period of higher levels of
involuntary attention, while decreasing directed, voluntary
attention to restore efficient mental effort [16,17].Recent
psychological studies comparing an experimental group
exposed to pictorial scenes of nature with a control group
exposed to urban scenes indicated that interacting with
nature improves executive attention (Figure 1a). Figure 1
shows improvement (reduced reaction time [RT] to resolve
conflict in the ANT) in executive attention after exposure to
nature compared to an urban scene. No differences in self-
reported mood were found because of training [14].
The mechanism for improved attention after nature
exposure was thought be because of a state change restor-
ing attentional efficiency [14,16]. Recent studies [18,19]
have shown that performing mental tasks involving cog-
nitive control can lead to a reduction in systemic glucose.
Replenishment of glucose leads to a return to high levels of
performance. These data indicate that sustained mental
effort can produce a state of fatigue that influences per-
formance. It would be useful to test further the possibility
that increased glucose is one mechanism for the restor-
ation of attention after exposure to nature.
Mindfulness is awareness of one’s present thoughts,
emotions or actions. Mindfulness training involves bring-
ing one’s awareness back from the past or the future into
the present moment. Many studies have shown the train-
ing effects of mindfulness, including reduced pain and
stress, improvement of cognitive functioning and positive
emotion [2023]. Mindfulness requires awareness of the
present moment and focuses mainly on changes in the
state of the mind. One study observed changes in perform-
ance on the second of two repeated target stimuli during
rapid visual presentation [24]. Failure of people to detect a
second target soon after the first has been called ‘the
attentional blink’. Three months of intensive mental train-
ing resulted in improved second target detection (reduced
attentional blink) and also reduced brain-resource allo-
cation to the first target, indicating that mental training
can result in increased control over the distribution of
limited brain resources, resulting in an improvement in
the executive attention network [24].
IBMT was adopted from traditional Chinese medicine and
incorporates aspects of meditation and mindfulness train-
ing. However, IBMT views cooperation between the body
and mind as important. This meditative state is difficult to
achieve unless there is a balance and optimization of mind
and body [15,25,26]. IBMT is designed to facilitate the
achievement of this balanced state and maintain it to
improve attention and performance.
In one study [15], Chinese undergraduates were ran-
domly assigned to an experimental group or a control group
for 5 days of short-term training (20 min per day). Students
were given IBMT (experimental group) or relaxation train-
ing (control group). Training was presented in a standar-
dized way via a CD and guided by a skillful IBMT coach
whose job was to make sure of quality training in each
session. The two groups were given a battery of tests before
training and after the final training session. The IBMT
group showed significantly greater improvement of per-
formance in executive attention using the ANT (Figure 1b).
They also showed lower anxiety, depression, anger and
fatigue, and higher vigor on the Profile of Mood States
scale, in addition to significantly reduced stress as
measured by cortisol secretion after a stressful experience
and increased immunoreactivity [15].
IBMT does not stress efforts to control thoughts, but
instead induces a state of restful alertness, enabling a high
degree of awareness of body, mind and external instruc-
tions. It seeks a balanced state of relaxation while focusing
attention. Control of thought is achieved gradually through
posture and relaxation. The coach works to achieve a
balanced and harmonious state rather than by having
the trainee attempt an internal struggle to control
thoughts in accordance with instruction.
In short, IBMT improves attention and self-regulation
through state changes involving both body and mind.
Training leads to better performance in cognition, emotion
and social behaviors [15]. The combined use of body and
mind training is also supported by studies of embodied
cognition, in which changes in the body, particularly in
facial expression, influence emotional processing and
facilitate retrieval of autobiographical memories [25,26].
Interaction within AST streams
AST has a long history worldwide but seldom draws great
attention in the scientific community. Being in harmony
with nature is the central life attitude and philosophical
idea in Chinese and Eastern cultures. For many hundreds
of years, practitioners chose natural environments such as
parks, forests and mountains to practice body and mind
training such as Tai Chi, Yoga, martial arts and medita-
tion. In the West, walking or hiking in nature, doing
exercise and vacationing in national parks are popular
activities that attract many millions of people.
AST includes several stages. The early stage involves
mental restoration, releasing fatigue to perform atten-
tional and related cognitive tasks effectively. IBMT and
exposure to nature share this stage. The most important
difference between IBMT and nature exposure is whether
one has a cumulative set of experiences that produce a
deeper body-mind state in each session. In nature
exposure, the eyes are open, making it more difficult for
a novice to get into a deeper mental state, whereas for the
IBMT practitioner the eyes are closed and different tech-
niques such as breath adjustment and mental imagery are
used in each session to produce an increasingly deep
mental state.
After continued practice, a stage of improved perform-
ance is commonly obtained in which subjects reach a
comfortable equilibrium, triggering the autonomic nervous
system (ANS) to further regulate the brain. The role of
ANS has received support from brain imaging studies
Review Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol.13 No.5
showing a close connection between the anterior cingulate
cortex and autonomic control [27,28].
In one Chinese study, it was shown that IBMT reduces
cortisol secretion in response to stress in a dose dependent
manner after between 5 days and one month of training
[29]. After one month of training, the baseline of cortisol
seems to have been reduced. It is not clear whether other
forms of AT or AST would have similar effects and this
possibility warrants further exploration.
A natural tendency of the mind is to be restless, that is,
to wander as the focus of attention is switched. AT directly
exercises the executive control networks. Because control
increases mental effort, its overuse often leads to mental
fatigue. Figure 2 summarizes the relationship between a
state in which the mind is wandering freely at one extreme,
to a state of fatigue at the other. The goal of AST is to
produce an optimal balance (attention balance state) be-
tween the two extremes. This state is also thought to
produce better performance.
Brain mechanisms
AT mechanism
Imaging studies of AT are limited so our discussion of the
neural mechanisms involved is speculative, but can yield
testable hypotheses. In an fMRI study of conflict tasks such
as the ANT, but without training, the ability to resolve
conflict activates both midline frontal activity (anterior
cingulate cortex) and lateral PFC [30,31].
Rueda et al. [4] used high density electroencephalogra-
phy (EEG) before and after AT. A child version of the ANT
was used with 4- and 6-year-old children, and the results
were compared with adult EEG. It was found that the
trained 6-year-old children showed an adult pattern of
greater negativity following incongruent than congruent
flankers over midfrontal electrodes after training. In
adults, this EEG pattern has been associated with activity
in the dorsal anterior cingulate [32]. No such activity was
found in 6-year-olds before training or in 4-year-olds either
before or after training.
The working memory method used to train children
with ADHD was used in an fMRI study to examine areas
of brain activity that changed after five weeks of training
[33,34]. Several areas of the lateral PFC were increased in
activity after training.
One fMRI study of the attention network task [35]
showed that the task produced increases in connectivity
between the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and
lateral PFC during performance. This suggests that the
ANT might involve both midline and lateral areas during
task performance. However, this study did not involve any
explicit training.
Overall there is some evidence that AT involves changes
in anterior cingulate and lateral prefrontal areas, perhaps
mainly through increased connectivity between the two.
Further research is needed to examine brain changes
during AT and particularly connectivity changes between
frontal areas.
The different roles of ACC and PFC in AST
Recent studies have involved 2-week and 4-week long
practice of IBMT. In comparison with a relaxation control
group, the IBMT group showed increased ACC involve-
ment during a resting condition [29,36]. This increase in
activity in the ACC is similar to what is found in AT during
task performance and could account for the improved
executive attention with both methods. In the IBMT stu-
dies, measures of heart rate variability reflecting ANS
activity and regulation were correlated with frontal mid-
line theta activity recorded from scalp electrodes. Because
midline theta has been associated with autonomic control
[37,38], these results indicate the importance of both the
central nervous system and the ANS as mechanisms for
improved performance after IBMT.
In his book on mindfulness, Siegel [39] suggests that
when midline cortical regions (e.g. the anterior cingulate)
are engaged without activation of lateral prefrontal areas
involved in working memory, a mindful state might be
obtained without effort [39]. IBMT practice has been
Figure 2. AT, AST and performance mind wandering and mental fatigue are two extremes of the untrained mind (left and right gray rectangles). AT requires effortful control
to improve performance whereas AST changes body-mind state through effortless practice. Optimal balance (attention balance state) is hypothesized to trigger the most
efficient performance (middle cylinder area).
Review Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol.13 No.5
described as proceeding from effortful practice to effortless
practice. In initial stages, a practitioner devotes mental
effort to enter into a quiet and relaxed state quite different
from his or her daily life, with restless wandering thoughts
and diverse emotions. This requires strong executive func-
tion and capacity that heavily involves the PFC.
With practice, the practitioner experiences a deeply
relaxed state, entering the mid-stage of meditation. The
process still requires effortful control, but at this stage the
ANS starts to work in parallel. Because the ACC has been
implicated in self-regulation [40] and is also important in
regulation of autonomic activity [27], we speculate that the
ACC has an important role in this stage to maintain the
balance of cognitive control and autonomic activity. In later
meditation stages, the practitioner does not need strong
effort and uses only effortless experience to maintain the
meditative state. When deeply in this state, practitioners
totally forget the body, the self and the environment. In
this stage, the ANS is in control and ACC activity should be
dominant [41]. We speculate that it is these deeper late
stages of meditation that differ most clearly from AT. More
research will be needed to test these hypotheses.
Future directions
The methods we have discussed for AT and for AST (see Box
2for a brief summary of the main features of each method)
are certainly not the only ones available. Instead, they
represent examples of methods that have been rigorously
tested. It seems likely that AT is a consequence of deep and
sustained work in any subject. Some subjects, for example
music and art, absorb the interest of children and the lessons
serve as vehicles for training attention; strong executive
attention serves to enhance development of other cognitive
processes [42]. It seems likely that other methods of quieting
and directing the mind serves to change state. These topics
would need to be explored in future studies (Box 3).
Paying attention has a very important role in school
performance and education. AT exercises executive control
and transfers to cognitive capacities for learning, and
adding AT to pre-school classroom work has been shown
to improve students’ cognitive control [1]. AST in children
has also been shown to facilitate learning and improve
cognition, emotion and performance [29,36]. These two
types of training influence somewhat different brain net-
works and in future studies they might be combined to
enhance their effectiveness. Future studies could also shed
light on how to design training appropriately for persons
differing in temperament or learning style.
Mary Rothbart, the journal editor and three referees helped to improve
the presentation of this paper. This work was supported by NSFC
30670699, Program for New Century Excellent Talents in University,
NCET-06-0277, the James S. Bower and John S. Templeton Foundation
and NICHF grant HD 38051.
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Trains executive attention networks
Requires directed attention and effortful control
Targets non-autonomic control systems
Produces mental fatigue easily
Training transfers to other cognitive abilities
Produces changes of body-mind state
Requires effortful control (early stage) and effortless exercise
Involves the autonomic system
Aims at achieving a relaxed and balanced state
Training transfers to cognition, emotion and social behaviors
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Which factors help to facilitate the optimal body-mind state?
Are there critical ages and training lengths for AT and AST?
What is the optimal dose of particular types of AT and AST at
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What are the peripheral biological consequences of different
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How might individual differences be matched to AT and AST
How could the optimal state be maintained?
Which aspects of AT and AST affect education, professional
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Review Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol.13 No.5
... For the mindfulness construct to more deeply influence landscape and urban planning, we can study how meditation scientists have identified plausible mechanisms through which mindfulness states produce lasting level-shifts in mindfulness traits (Malinowski, 2013;Tang & Posner, 2009;Tang et al., 2015). Restorative environments research assumes that transient state benefits of nature experiences accumulate over repeated visits, enabling continued healthy development (Hartig, 2007;Markevych et al., 2017). ...
... The predominant narrative is based in the attention network training paradigm (Posner et al., 2010;Tang & Posner, 2009). In this account, socalled focused-attention meditation practicesin which participants try to sustain attention to a given target and repeatedly redirect attention when they become distracted (see Lutz et al., 2008;Lutz et al., 2015) presumably load and exercise the engaged brain networks akin to working out. ...
... That corresponds poorly, and even clashes with, assumptions in restorative environments research about how quick and effortless processes are engaged in nature experience (as briefly acknowledged by Macaulay et al., 2022;see Lymeus et al., 2018;Lymeus et al., 2020). However, few environmental researchers have noticed that Tang, Posner and colleagues (Posner et al., 2010;Tang & Posner, 2009 connected their reasoning to restorative environments theory (Kaplan, 1995;2001) when they proposed a distinct learning mechanism that they refer to as attention state training. ...
This commentary complements Macaulay et al.'s thoughtful and valuable perspective by attending to some additional matters of theoretical, ethical, and practical importance. First, I argue for how consideration of multiple levels of complementarity between processes in mindfulness and nature experience allow more powerful integrations than building on apparent synergies. Second, I outline how an understanding of mindfulness as a practice and training can illuminate relationships between states, traits and values of equal relevance for human health and sustainable transitions. Third, I discuss some caveats and considerations in planning for mindfulness, pointing to insights that researchers and professionals committed to sustainable cities can gain from “McMindfulness” debates and other controversies around meditation before outlining some tentative ideas for how urban environmental design could support mindful living and mindful action.
... We assessed trait mindfulness using the FFMQ, including observing as one subscale, which can be seen as a cognitive function linked to attention. It was found that mindfulness positively influences executive control (Verhaeghen, 2021), self-regulation (Tang and Posner, 2009), and attention (Jha et al., 2007;Tang and Posner, 2009;Verhaeghen, 2021). This link between mindfulness and cognitive functions in general, and attention in particular, might explain why parasympathetic activity was lower during the videos for participants who scored high on the FFMQ-observing subscale. ...
... We assessed trait mindfulness using the FFMQ, including observing as one subscale, which can be seen as a cognitive function linked to attention. It was found that mindfulness positively influences executive control (Verhaeghen, 2021), self-regulation (Tang and Posner, 2009), and attention (Jha et al., 2007;Tang and Posner, 2009;Verhaeghen, 2021). This link between mindfulness and cognitive functions in general, and attention in particular, might explain why parasympathetic activity was lower during the videos for participants who scored high on the FFMQ-observing subscale. ...
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Growing evidence suggests that natural environments – whether in outdoor or indoor settings – foster psychological health and physiological relaxation, indicated by increased wellbeing, reduced stress levels, and increased parasympathetic activity. Greater insight into differential psychological aspects modulating psychophysiological responses to nature-based relaxation videos could help understand modes of action and develop personalized relaxation interventions. We investigated heart rate variability (HRV) as an indicator of autonomic regulation, specifically parasympathetic activity, in response to a 10-min video intervention in two consecutive studies as well as heart rate (HR). We hypothesized that a nature-based relaxation video elicits HRV increase and HR decrease, with response magnitude being affected by aspects of early life adversity (conceptualized as low parental care and high overprotection/constraint) and trait mindfulness. In Study 1, N = 60 participants (52% female, agemean = 23.92 ± 3.13 years, agerange = 18–34 years) watched a relaxation video intervention depicting different natural scenery. We analyzed changes in HR and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) as a standard HRV measure, both based on 3-min segments from the experimental session, in multiple growth curve models. We found a decrease in HR and increase of RSA during the video intervention. Higher paternal care and lower trait mindfulness observing skills (assessed via questionnaires) were associated with higher RSA values before but not during video exposure. In Study 2, N = 90 participants (50% female, agemean = 22.63 ± 4.57 years, agerange = 18–49 years) were assigned to three video conditions: natural scenery from Study 1, meditation video, or short clip from “The Lord of the Rings.” Again, HR decreased, and RSA increased during video segments, yet without expected group differences across different video types. We found higher parental care and lower parental overprotection to predict higher RSA at different times during the experiment. Interestingly, lower paternal overprotection predicted overall higher RSA. These results suggest a generic relaxation effect of video interventions on autonomic regulation that we discuss in light of different theories mapping restorative effects of natural environments. Further, psychological characteristics like aspects of early life adversity and trait mindfulness could contribute to individual differences in autonomic regulation. This study contributes to a better understanding of autonomic and psychological responses to relaxation videos.
... Environmental psychology rarely pays enough attention to the potential benefit that nature could bring to mindfulness training [113] or considers meditation practices as a way to facilitate and enhance restorative experiences [114]. Nevertheless, some authors, among which include Kaplan, one of the pioneers of the concept of restorative experiences [22,23], suggested some converging points between theory in the field of mindfulness and theory in restorative environments [115][116][117]. Both suggest disengaging from habitual and reactive thoughts and emotion (calling this mechanism detachment and being away, respectively) as a stress management strategy. ...
... Both suggest that attention underlies the positive effect of experiences. In particular, both theorize that present experiences (meditation and nature exposure) are characterized by a particular quality of attention (curiosity and soft fascination, respectively) [22,23,116,117]. Thus, experiences in nature can support meditative states through soft fascination (attentional state that restores resources effortlessly) and by being away. ...
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In recent years, work-related stress has grown exponentially and the negative impact that this condition has on people’s health is considerable. The effects of work-related stress can be distinguished in those that affect workers (e.g., depression and anxiety) and those that affect the company (e.g., absenteeism and productivity). It is possible to distinguish two types of prevention interventions. Individual interventions aim at promoting coping and individual resilience strategies with the aim of modifying cognitive assessments of the potential stressor, thus reducing its negative impact on health. Mindfulness techniques have been found to be effective stress management tools that are also useful in dealing with stressful events in the workplace. Organizational interventions modify the risk factors connected to the context and content of the work. It was found that a restorative workplace (i.e., with natural elements) reduces stress and fatigue, improving work performance. Furthermore, practicing mindfulness in nature helps to improve the feeling of wellbeing and to relieve stress. In this paper, we review the role of mindfulness-based practices and of contact with nature in coping with stressful situations at work, and we propose a model of coping with work-related stress by using mindfulness in nature-based practices.
... Based on our review of behavioral effects, a converging mechanism of effortless training and experiences seems to be the ability to induce state-related changes in body and mind [21,116], as well as in multiple brain networks [21,116], which altogether cultivate optimal mental and physiological states that contribute to these behavioral effects, particularly far-transfer effects to domains beyond those specifically trained or engaged during the training or experiences. Currently, research on the duration of effortless training-related behavioral effects is limited, with some evidence showing long-lasting effects [39,117,118]. ...
... Based on our review of behavioral effects, a converging mechanism of effortless training and experiences seems to be the ability to induce state-related changes in body and mind [21,116], as well as in multiple brain networks [21,116], which altogether cultivate optimal mental and physiological states that contribute to these behavioral effects, particularly far-transfer effects to domains beyond those specifically trained or engaged during the training or experiences. Currently, research on the duration of effortless training-related behavioral effects is limited, with some evidence showing long-lasting effects [39,117,118]. ...
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For the past 50 years, cognitive scientists have assumed that training attention and self-control must be effortful. However, growing evidence suggests promising effects of effortless training approaches such as nature exposure, flow experience, and effortless practice on attention and self-control. This opinion article focuses on effortless training of attention and self-control. We begin by introducing our definitions of effortful and effortless training and reviewing the growing literature on these two different forms of training. We then discuss the similarities and differences in their respective behavioral outcomes and neural correlates. Finally, we propose a putative neural mechanism of effortless training. We conclude by highlighting promising directions for research, development, and application of effortless training.
... Two broad approaches for improving attention have been identified: cognitive attention training and state training (Tang and Posner, 2009). Cognitive attention training involves the repetitive practice of a cognitive task thought to exercise neural networks related to attention (Posner et al., 2015). ...
... This type of training may also involve networks but does not include cognitive tasks designed to specifically train an attentional network (Posner et al., 2015). A range of methods have been suggested for training a brain state that promotes attention; physical activity and meditation are two examples of state training approaches (Posner et al., 2015;Tang and Posner, 2009). State training methods likely put the brain and body into an optimal state for sustaining attention. ...
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There are a myriad of interventions promoting activities designed to help enhance sustained attention in children and adolescents. In this systematic review, we critically evaluate the evidence behind three popular sustained attention training approaches – cognitive attention training, meditation, and physical activity. Seven databases were searched in addition to secondary searches. Cognitive attention training, meditation training or physical activity intervention studies aimed at improving sustained attention (randomised-controlled or non-randomised-controlled designs) in samples of children and adolescents (3-18 years) were included. We screened 3437 unique articles. Thirty-seven studies satisfied inclusion criteria. In general, cognitive attention training (n = 14) did not reliably improve sustained attention. Physical activity (n = 15) and meditation interventions (n = 8) demonstrated somewhat more potential in enhancing sustained attention, but these effects should be considered preliminary and need to be replicated with greater methodological rigour. Cognitive attention training demonstrated very limited transfer to other aspects of attention. Notably, mindfulness training had rather consistent positive effects on selective attention. Across all three intervention types, there was very weak evidence for transfer to other aspects of cognition, behaviour, and academic achievement. The paper concludes with methodological recommendations for future studies to strengthen the evidence base.
... There is growing interest in using various forms of meditation as therapeutic interventions to enhance attention 67 and combat cognitive decline in OA 68 . In addition to leading to improvements in cognition 69 , meditation and mindfulness practices have been studied as potential therapies for loneliness 70 , depression 71 , impulse control 72 , and chronic pain management 73 in OA. ...
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As population aging advances at an increasing rate, efforts to help people maintain or improve cognitive function late in life are critical. Although some studies have shown promise, the question of whether cognitive training is an effective tool for improving general cognitive ability remains incompletely explored, and study results to date have been inconsistent. Most approaches to cognitive enhancement in older adults have taken a ‘one size fits all’ tack, as opposed to tailoring interventions to the specific needs of individuals. In this Perspective, we argue that modern technology has the potential to enable large-scale trials of public health interventions to enhance cognition in older adults in a personalized manner. Technology-based cognitive interventions that rely on closed-loop systems can be tailored to individuals in real time and have the potential for global testing, extending their reach to large and diverse populations of older adults. We propose that the future of cognitive enhancement in older adults will rely on harnessing new technologies in scientifically informed ways. Whether and how cognitive training may be used to improve cognitive functions in older age remains incompletely explored, and existing studies have yielded inconsistent results. Here, the authors argue that emerging technologies can transform the field of cognitive enhancement by enabling personalized strategies for cognitive enhancement in older adults.
... These results then indicate that distractibility progressively develops during the preschool age, and suggest that adversity linked to the SES of the child family can modulate attentional performances starting from the younger age. Elucidating differences in distractibility during the preschool age according the children SES is relevant not only to our basic understanding of disparities related to SES, but may also have relevance for the timing or nature of interventions targeting attention skills (Neville et al., 2013;Posner et al., 2015;Tang & Posner, 2009). A better understanding of the causes of increased distractibility is crucial to improve rehabilitation or training programs to boost attention, either in a basic or clinical approach. ...
Il est communément admis que les enfants se laissent plus facilement distraire que les adultes. La distractibilité naturellement exacerbée chez l’enfant peut découler (i) d’une difficulté à porter volontairement l’attention sur la tâche en cours, (ii) d’une réaction attentionnelle involontaire trop importante aux stimuli distracteurs survenant alentour, ou (iii) de ces deux phénomènes à la fois. Si on sait à ce jour que l’enfant présenterait bien des difficultés d’attention volontaire, l’effet des stimuli distracteurs sur le comportement et le fonctionnement cérébral de l’enfant a été peu étudié. Dans le milieu clinique, la caractérisation imprécise de la distractibilité au cours du développement typique impacte le diagnostic des déficits attentionnels : comment objectiver la présence d’un trouble pathologique de la distractibilité si la norme elle-même est mal définie ? Dans l’objectif de pallier ce manque de connaissances, nous avons utilisé un nouveau paradigme, le Competitive Attention Test (CAT), pour caractériser le développement typique de la distractibilité auditive de l’enfance à l’âge adulte (4 à 25 ans). Pris dans leur ensemble, les résultats que nous avons obtenus indiquent que plusieurs composantes attentionnelles (e.g., attention volontaire, involontaire, alerte phasique) conditionnent l’émergence de la distractibilité accrue chez l’enfant ; ces composantes présentent des trajectoires développementales dissociées. Dans une approche électrophysiologique, nous avons ensuite enregistré l’activité cérébrale d’enfants et d’adultes (6, 11-13 et 18-25 ans) réalisant le CAT : l’analyse des potentiels évoqués durant la tâche permettra de mieux comprendre quels sont les processus de maturation cérébrale à l’origine de la distractibilité accrue chez l’enfant. Enfin, dans le but de permettre l’utilisation clinique du CAT, nous avons mis en place différentes études visant à construire une base de données normative pour ce test (6 à 90 ans), mais également à prouver sa validité de contenu, de critère et de construit. Les résultats de ces études permettront notamment de déterminer si le CAT est un outil pertinent pour l’aide au diagnostic du trouble déficitaire de l’attention avec ou sans hyperactivité.
... However, individual-level training interventions such as mindfulness courses typically require a substantial investment of effort, time and other limited resources in acquiring new skills or enhancing functional capabilities on a neurocognitive level (see e.g. Lutz et al., 2015;Tang & Posner, 2009). Such investment can be prohibitive for already strained individuals (Lymeus et al., 2017). ...
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People deplete adaptive resources in facing the demands of everyday life, and environments differ in the support they afford for renewal of depleted resources. Environments that promote the renewal of adaptive resources, called restorative environments, have attracted attention in diverse disciplines. Both theoretically and practically, work with restorative environments can complement work guided by a stress perspective on adaptation that focuses on demands from the environment and ways of minimising and mitigating them. Work concerning restorative environments thus shares with salutogenesis studies a positive perspective on circumstances that promote health, effective action and well-being. The two fields also have common roots in the study of stress, and they have emerged and taken form during roughly the same period from the 1970s on. Despite their similarities in perspective and origin, however, the two fields appear to have developed largely in parallel, without systematic exchange. Many researchers interested in restorative environments do refer to salutogenesis in a broad sense and have some familiarity with the literature on salutogenesis. However, those who study salutogenesis in the tradition of Antonovsky would find that little research on restorative environments has empirically addressed theoretical claims concerning, for example, the sense of coherence as a generalised resistance resource. Our reading of the literature on salutogenesis suggests to us that this neglect is mutual. In this chapter, we consider how research on restorative environments can augment research on salutogenesis by calling attention to the dynamics of depletion and renewal of resources needed for the maintenance and promotion of health and well-being, and by showing how the sociophysical environment comes into play in people’s ongoing efforts to manage diverse resources. We also consider how research on salutogenesis can augment research on restorative environments by encouraging a broader view of the kinds of resources that can be depleted and the different levels on which they are organised and become available. In this chapter, we thus indicate areas for more systematic, reciprocal exchange between the fields. In the first of the following sections, we outline the restoration perspective and define key concepts and contexts of research on restorative environments. In the next section, we go on to overview theoretical and empirical research on restorative environments. In the subsequent section, we discuss implications of research on restorative environments for further research and for interventions that bridge the concerns of the two fields. In the final section, we consider some challenges for the future, covering possible reasons why exchange between the fields has been limited and reasons why both fields would benefit from engaging more systematically. Throughout, we provide points of entry into the literature for researchers and practitioners in both fields.
Background Attentiveness during class is critical for learning. Teachers have strategies to promote active engagement and active learning, yet little control over students’ baseline level of alertness and focus upon arriving to class. Objective To evaluate the effect of pre-lecture cognitive exercise on attention and learning in lectures. Method In Experiment 1, college students ( n = 28) in Introductory Psychology participated in a brief battery of complex cancellation tasks prior to a subset of lectures. Effectiveness measures included course exams and post-study student surveys. Experiment 2 replicated the first in a subsequent class ( n = 35) with the same instructor and the addition of post-lecture quizzes. Results In both experiments, students performed higher on exam content from post-exercise lectures relative to control lectures. No effect was observed on post-lecture quizzes. On post-study surveys, students reported improved attentiveness to lecture after cognitive calisthenics. Conclusion Pre-lecture cognitive activity appears to benefit student attention and learning in lectures. Teaching Implications With so many students arriving to class either distracted or sleepy, the inclusion of a brief pre-lecture cognitive exercise program may be an engaging and effective method for optimizing student attentiveness and learning in lecture-based courses.
This Study focused on identifying psychological variables that could predict academic burnout of college students. In detail, We examined whether hypervigilance and stress mediated in sequential manner in the relationship between attentional control and academic burnout. For this, 234 college students completed Attentional Control Questionnaire, Brief Hypervigilance Scale, Perceived Stress Scale, and Korean Academic Burnout Scale. The data was collected for about two weeks from April 1 to 13, 2020, and the collected data was analyzed using SPSS 21.0 and Process Macro 3.4. The results indicate that hypervigilance and stress both mediated the relationship between attentional control and academic burnout. These findings indicate that hypervigilance and stress can be the possible mechanism for linking attentional control and academic burnout. More so, it was also observed that both hypervigilance and stress mediated sequentially. The study suggested that individuals with low attentional control may become hypervigilance and perceive more stress, which in turn may lead to academic burnout. The implications and limitations for future studies are also discussed.
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This chapter explains the concept of effort on the basis of evidence from experimental and cognitive psychology, demonstrates how it has been used in conducting studies of brain activity, and goes on to examine the individual differences that play a role in determining the efficiency of brain networks associated with effortful control. It also reviews certain educational training methods; those when used among children can change these networks, along with conditional changes developed in adults through meditation training. The findings reveal that meditation helps in producing better attentional performance and the subjective condition related to effort. The chapter also investigates how these training methods play a role in determining the concept of flow.
This volume traces development of the human brain from infancy through middle childhood from the perspective of cognitive and affective neuroscience. We view the brain in terms of networks of neural areas that can be shown to be active when adults orient their attention or resolve conflict between competing thoughts or emotions. We ask how these networks develop and what their consequences are for the developing child and the adults with whom they interact. Because formal schooling plays such an important role in this development, we are particularly concerned with networks involved in processing the written word and in carrying out numerical computations. The first part of this volume provides a background for relating new developments to past ideas about the brain and education. The second part of this volume deals with the development of attention networks in infants and young children. The third part of the volume deals with what is known about brain changes during the learning of individual school subjects. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Author's Note: This article benefited greatly from the many improvements in organization, expression, and content made by Rachel Kaplan, and the many suggestions concerning consistency, clarity, and accuracy made by Terry Hartig. Thanks also to the SESAME group for providing a supportive environment for exploring many of the themes discussed here. The project was funded, in part, by USDA Forest Service, North Central Experiment Station, Urban Forestry Unit Co-operative Agreements. Abstract An analysis of the underlying similarities between the Eastern meditation tradition and attention restoration theory (ART) provides a basis for an expanded framework for studying directed attention. The focus of the analysis is the active role the individual can play in the preservation and recovery of the directed attention capacity. Two complementary strategies are presented which can help individuals more effectively manage their attentional resource. One strategy involves avoiding unnecessary costs in terms of expenditure of directed attention. The other involves enhancing the effect of restorative opportunities. Both strategies are hypothesized to be more effective if one gains generic knowledge, self knowledge and specific skills. The interplay between a more active form of mental involvement and the more passive approach of meditation appear to have far-reaching ramifications for managing directed attention. Research on mental restoration has focused on the role of the environment, and especially the natural environment. Such settings have been shown to reduce both stress and directed attention fatigue (DAF) (Hartig & Evans, 1993). Far less emphasis, however, has been placed on the possibility of active participation by the individual in need of recovery. A major purpose of this paper is to explore the potential of this mostly neglected component of the restorative process.
There has been substantial interest in mindfulness as an approach to reduce cognitive vulnerability to stress and emotional distress in recent years. However, thus far mindfulness has not been defined operationally. This paper describes the results of recent meetings held to establish a consensus on mindfulness and to develop conjointly a testable operational definition. We propose a two-component model of mindfulness and specify each component in terms of specific behaviors, experiential manifestations, and implicated psychological processes. We then address issues regarding temporal stability and situational specificity and speculate on the conceptual and operational distinctiveness of mindfulness. We conclude this paper by discussing implications for instrument development and briefly describing our own approach to measurement.
During a 1-sec tachistoscopic exposure, Ss responded with a right or left leverpress to a single target letter from the sets H and K or S and C. The target always appeared directly above the fixation cross. Experimentally varied were the types of noise letters (response compatible or incompatible) flanking the target and the spacing between the letters in the display. In all noise conditions, reaction time (RT) decreased as between-letter spacing increased. However, noise letters of the opposite response set were found to impair RT significantly more than same response set noise, while mixed noise letters belonging to neither set but having set-related features produced intermediate impairment. Differences between two target-alone control conditions, one presented intermixed with noise-condition trials and one presented separately in blocks, gave evidence of a preparatory set on the part of Ss to inhibit responses to the noise letters. It was concluded that S cannot prevent processing of noise letters occurring within about 1 deg of the target due to the nature of processing channel capacity and must inhibit his response until he is able to discriminate exactly which letter is in the target position. This discrimination is more difficult and time consuming at closer spacings, and inhibition is more difficult when noise letters indicate the opposite response from the targe
Directed attention plays an important role in human information processing; its fatigue, in turn, has far-reaching consequences. Attention Restoration Theory provides an analysis of the kinds of experiences that lead to recovery from such fatigue. Natural environments turn out to be particularly rich in the characteristics necessary for restorative experiences. An integrative framework is proposed that places both directed attention and stress in the larger context of human-environment relationships.