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Examining the Protective Effects of Mindfulness Training on Working Memory Capacity and Affective Experience

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We investigated the impact of mindfulness training (MT) on working memory capacity (WMC) and affective experience. WMC is used in managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet, persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals, may deplete WMC and lead to cognitive failures and emotional disturbances. We hypothesized that MT may mitigate these deleterious effects by bolstering WMC. We recruited 2 military cohorts during the high-stress predeployment interval and provided MT to 1 (MT, n = 31) but not the other group (military control group, MC, n = 17). The MT group attended an 8-week MT course and logged the amount of out-of-class time spent practicing formal MT exercises. The operation span task was used to index WMC at 2 testing sessions before and after the MT course. Although WMC remained stable over time in civilians (n = 12), it degraded in the MC group. In the MT group, WMC decreased over time in those with low MT practice time, but increased in those with high practice time. Higher MT practice time also corresponded to lower levels of negative affect and higher levels of positive affect (indexed by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule). The relationship between practice time and negative, but not positive, affect was mediated by WMC, indicating that MT-related improvements in WMC may support some but not all of MT's salutary effects. Nonetheless, these findings suggest that sufficient MT practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress contexts.
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