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Abstract

Richard Chambers

The present study investigated the way in which enhanced executive function mediates the relationship between mindfulness (Vipassana) meditation practice and improved affect. Twenty participants (M = 9, F = 11) were recruited as they underwent their first 10-day Vipassana meditation course at Dhamma Aloka Vipassana meditation centre, and 20 controls (M = 11, F = 9; matched for age, gender, and years of education) were drawn from waiting lists for these courses (n = 5) and from the community (n = 15). Meditators were measured before (Time 1) and after (Time 2) completion of the course, on a series of (1) self-report affect scales (Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)), (2) self-report metacognitive processing scales (Ruminative Responses Scale (RRS), and Mindful Awareness Attention Scale (MAAS)), and (3) measures of cognitive function, including the Digit Span Backward (DSB) subscale of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 3rd Edition (WAIS III), and a newly-developed Internal Switching Task (IST) which measures mechanisms of internal attention-switching (executive function), using both neutral and affective stimuli. Nonmeditators underwent the same testing, with a similar test-retest interval. Following the meditation course, the meditators scored significantly lower on the BDI and negative affect dimension of the PANAS than did to the controls. They also scored significantly higher on the DSB, and exhibited decreased RTs on both the neutral and affective conditions of the IST. Improved scores on the DSB were found to at least partially mediate the relationship between group membership (meditators vs. nonmeditators) and improved scores on the MAAS. There was also a strong trend towards decreased RTs on the neutral condition of the IST mediating the relationship between group membership and improved scores on the BDI. These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation practice has significant benefits for psychological wellbeing, and that these benefits are at least partially mediated by enhanced executive function. The implications of this for future research are discussed, and recommendations made for further study.

The present study examines the effects of intensive mindfulness (Vipassana) meditation training on executive function, particularly the ability to control the focus of attention. Of particular interest are the benefits such practice may have for increasing control over the internal focus of attention, and therefore its effects on key symptoms of mental distress such as depression, anxiety, negative affect, and rumination. In sum, executive control of attention has implications for self-regulation, and thus psychological wellbeing. It may therefore provide a key to understanding one of the mechanisms that underlie the observed benefits of mindfulness meditation for mental health and wellbeing.

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