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Abstract and Figures

It is estimated that people spend almost half their waking hours lost in stimulus-independent thought, or mind wandering, which in turn has been shown to negatively impact well-being. This has sparked a rise in the number of cognitive training platforms that aim to boost executive functioning, yet it is unclear whether mind wandering can be reduced through online training. The current study aimed to investigate whether behavioral markers of mind wandering can be reduced through two short-term online-based interventions: mindfulness meditation and brain training. Using a randomized controlled design, we assigned one group of participants to 30 days of mindfulness training (n = 54) and another to 30 days of brain training (n = 41). Mind wandering and dispositional mindfulness were assessed pre- and post-intervention via the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) and the Mindful Attention to Awareness Scale (MAAS), respectively. We found significant reductions in mind wandering and significant increases in dispositional mindfulness in the mindfulness training group but not the brain training group. A lack of any significant change in the brain training group may be driven by methodological limitations such as self-report bias. These results indicate that short online mindfulness-based interventions may be effective in reducing mind wandering.
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ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Online-based Mindfulness Training Reduces Behavioral Markers
of Mind Wandering
Ida H Bennike
1
&Anders Wieghorst
1
&Ulrich Kirk
1
Received: 23 January 2017 / Accepted: 4 April 2017 /Published online: 25 April 2017
#Springer International Publishing 2017
Abstract It is estimated that people spend almost half their
waking hours lost in stimulus-independent thought, or mind
wandering, which in turn has been shown to negatively impact
well-being. This has sparked a rise in the number of cognitive
training platforms that aim to boost executive functioning, yet
it is unclear whether mind wandering can be reduced through
online training. The current study aimed to investigate wheth-
er behavioral markers of mind wandering can be reduced
through two short-term online-based interventions: mindful-
ness meditation and brain training. Using a randomized con-
trolled design, we assigned one group of participants to
30 days of mindfulness training (n= 54) and another to 30 days
of brain training (n= 41). Mind wandering and dispositional
mindfulness were assessed pre- and post-intervention via the
Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) and the
Mindful Attention to Awareness Scale (MAAS), respectively.
We found significant reductions in mind wandering and sig-
nificant increases in dispositional mindfulness in the mindful-
ness training group but not the brain training group. A lack of
any significant change in the brain training group may be
driven by methodological limitations such as self-report bias.
These results indicate that short online mindfulness-based in-
terventions may be effective in reducing mind wandering.
Keywords Mindfulness .Mind wandering .Cognitive
training
Introduction
Mind wandering involves thinking about events or experi-
ences unrelated to the task at hand. It has been estimated that
mind wandering occupies up to 46% of our waking lives and
been shown to negatively impact subjective well-being
(Killingsworth and Gilbert 2010). Some studies suggest that
mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) may be effective at
reducing mind wandering (e.g. Levinson et al. 2014). In ad-
dition, there has been a recent surge in the number of
mindfulness-based smartphone apps, as well as the number
of online platforms that aim to increase cognitive performance
and enhance well-being through cognitive training. Thus, the
main aim of this study was to investigate whether a laboratory-
based behavioral marker of mind wandering would decrease
following two types of online-based cognitive training inter-
ventions: anMBI and cognitive training.
Behavioral markers of mind wandering are frequently mea-
sured in the laboratory via the Sustained Attention to
Response Task or SART (Robertson et al. 1997). The perfor-
mance markers of the SART are among the most carefully
validated and commonly used indirect measures of mind wan-
dering (Mrazek et al. 2012). The SART requires subjects to
respond to sequentially presented targets and to withhold
responding when infrequent targets are presented centrally
on an otherwise black screen. According to Robertson et al.
(1997), sustained attentioncan be defined as task-relevant
processing during monotonous tasks that encourage automat-
ic, mindless responding, and susceptibility to distractors (both
endogenous and exogenous in origin) that can induce off-task
behavior. This type of off-task behavior can be captured by the
SART. Specifically, the SART is designed such that the auto-
matic response is the default, thereby encouraging a habitual
response pattern that must be periodically overwritten by a
conscious executive decision to refrain from responding.
Ida H Bennike and Anders Wieghorst contributed equally to this work.
*Ulrich Kirk
ukirk@health.sdu.dk
1
Department of Psychology, University of Southern Denmark,
5230 Odense, Denmark
J Cogn Enhanc (2017) 1:172181
DOI 10.1007/s41465-017-0020-9
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... A broad range of research has shown that mindfulness is effectful in dampening stress and indeed increase cognitive processing [29][30][31][32][33][34][35]. However, it has thus far not been tested whether these salutary cognitive effects are present in an 'ecological' context, i.e., in the workplace. ...
... However, it has thus far not been tested whether these salutary cognitive effects are present in an 'ecological' context, i.e., in the workplace. Thus, this study aimed to investigate in a large group of Danish employees if listening to music or practicing mindfulness has the same positive effect on increased cognitive processing as when these training regimes were tested in the lab [29][30][31][32][33][34][35]. ...
... As a behavioral therapy mindfulness seek to improve self-regulation and emotion management through systemic training [36,37]. Such skills have recently been shown to reduce mind-wandering [29,34,38,39]. Mindwandering refers to thoughts that are not tied to the immediate task and can be linked with decreased performance on different measures including working memory capacity [40]. ...
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... For example, Morrison et al. (2014) found that non-target accuracy was significant, but this metric is not reported elsewhere. Target accuracy was significant according to Bennike et al. (2017), but not in Morrison et al.'s (2014) study. Other CPTs are less commonly used in mind-wandering research and therefore required more careful interpretation when considering which error profiles represented equivalent kinds of mind-wandering. ...
... The implications of this are addressed in the discussion. Bennike et al. (2017) addressed this problem by comparing Table 3 Type of CPT errors measured by study ...
... heads pace. com/ mindf ulness, as cited in Bennike et al. (2017) Italicized text represents instructions given directly to participants as part of the meditation, unitalicized text represents a general description of the meditation procedure given within the article Banks et al. (2015) chose this method in a much-needed effort to control for participant expectancies-something that had been neglected by previous studies. However, these two conditions are so similar that this study could also be conceptualized as a comparison of two mindfulness conditions, one of which contains an acceptance component. ...
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... As mentioned above, there is evidence suggesting that mindfulness practice can increase self-perceived sleep quality (Black et al., 2015;Garland et al., 2014;Gross et al., 2011;Hubbling et al., 2014;Ong et al., 2008). A separate line of evidence suggests that mindfulness practice may also increase cognitive performance (Axelsen et al., 2019;Bennike et al., 2017;Jha et al., 2015;Mrazek et al., 2013) even after exposure to brief (e.g., 8 min) mindfulness sessions (Mrazek et al., 2012). Therefore, based on these two lines of evidence, the present study also aimed to examine if guided mindfulness would enhance sleep quality and improve subsequent cognitive performance as measured through the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) (Robertson et al., 1997). ...
... However, the mediation analysis and ANCOVA showed that the guided mindfulness intervention had a direct effect on SART performance independently of the HRV component or sleep quality. These results are in line with previous literature showing how guided mindfulness intervention improves significantly cognitive function (Chiesa et al., 2011) and more specifically sustained attention and mind wandering (Jha et al., 2015;Morrison et al., 2014;Bennike et al., 2017;Mrazek et al., 2012;Kirk et al., 2018;Axelsen et al., 2019). Based on the present data, it appears that any strategy aiming at increasing HRV can have a direct impact on cognitive performance as measured with SART. ...
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... Such intervention studies found that the practice of mindfulness usually improved SART performance 3,34-36,37,38 and reduced the frequency of self-reported MW in some cases 36,39 but not in others 34,38 . Moreover, one study reported higher MAAS scores after mindfulness training 35 . Similarly to the findings of those correlation studies reported before, in these mindfulness training studies the associations between the direct MW measure and mindfulness is not as strong as one might expect. ...
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... Past studies have shown that mindfulness or meditation induction and practices decrease one's tendency to mind wandering afterwards [15,16,[43][44][45][46]. Some studies also show that an individual's tendency to mind wandering decreases during mindfulness induction compared to focusing on a mental image [47] or resting [48]. ...
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... This is because the notion 21 that the harmfulness of MW diverges based on its contents, including temporal orientation 22 2016). The third is the questionnaire method: Questionnaires such as the Mind Wandering 1 Questionnaire (MWQ; Mrazek, Phillips, et al., 2013) have been developed to assess trait 2 MW (Bennike & Wieghorst, 2017). Immediately shifting attention from MW can reduce 3 the time spent in MW during a task or in daily life, and it is likely that the scores of these 4 indices decrease when the disengagement from MW increases. ...
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Objective: Mindfulness meditation might improve the ability of disengagement from mind-wandering (MW), that is, the ability to shift attention from MW. Disengagement from MW could mediate the relationship between mindfulness and reduced depression. However, no studies have confirmed this relationship because of limitations in measurement methodology. Since the mindfulness-based intervention, which instructs participants to be aware of the occurrence of, and their own engagement in, MW, might bias self-reports of MW, a measurement method that does not rely on participants’ verbal report is needed. Therefore, we propose a novel method to evaluate the ability of disengagement from MW, based on MW intensity estimation by machine-learning using electroencephalography. Method: Mind-wandering (MW) intensity was estimated using 1-s electroencephalogram samples and a machine-learning model developed in previous research. Thus, fluctuations in MW were observed during a 14-min meditation and the time required to shift attention from MW was defined as an index of MW disengagement. Two experiments were performed: The first targeted experienced meditators and the second assessed nonmeditators before and after participating in a mindfulness-based intervention. Results: The experiments revealed that disengagement from MW correlated with the extent of meditation experience. A correlation was also found between the magnitude of change in disengagement and severity of depression following the intervention. Conclusions: Though further verification of validity is required, this study suggested the possibility that disengagement from MW has a mediating function on reducing depression by mindfulness-based intervention, and that improved disengagement from MW is more essential for mindfulness than trait MW.
... As regards mobile applications, these may contribute to closing the treatment gap for depression by reaching large populations at relatively low costs [36]. There is evidence of positive effects of mindfulness-based mobile applications on well-being, stress level, affect, work engagement, irritability, mind wandering as well as sleep quality in different study populations [37][38][39][40][41][42][43]. Eight randomized controlled trials using a mindfulness-based app as an intervention group are reported in more detail in Table 1. ...
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... Although the format of online learning has adverse effect on sustained attention, which subsequently detriments academic performance of students attending online courses, evidence is limited regarding the influencing factors and their interaction on sustained attention in online learning, especially in the context of nursing. The focus of current studies is to examine the effectiveness of various approaches at detecting and sustaining attention of students in online learning (Bennike et al., 2017;Pan et al., 2020;Jang et al., 2020;Conrad and Newman, 2019). Limited studies on influencing factors investigated only one or two factors related to sustained attention, such as technology application, emotions and cognitive load (Wood et al., 2012;Hidi and Renninger, 2006;Lavie, 2010). ...
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