From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution.
More research by neuroscientists has shown some possible benefits of mindfulness training. These benefits detailed below could be helpful to mediators and other conflict professionals.
Do you have a mindfulness practice? I would appreciate hearing from those of you who do—and those of you who do not. Please e-mail me with your comments, including why you do or do not have a practice. After I hear from some of you, I will create a survey to learn more about the attitudes held by conflict professionals about mindfulness.
Now, on to the research. From "Building Fit Minds Under Stress: Penn Neuroscientists Examine the Protective Effects of Mindfulness Training" (Office of University Communications at University of Pennsylvania):
A University of Pennsylvania-led study in which training was provided to a high-stress U.S. military group preparing for deployment to Iraq has demonstrated a positive link between mindfulness training, or MT, and improvements in mood and working memory. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware and attentive of the present moment without emotional reactivity or volatility.
The study found that the more time participants spent engaging in daily mindfulness exercises the better their mood and working memory, the cognitive term for complex thought, problem solving and cognitive control of emotions. The study also suggests that sufficient MT practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress challenges that require a tremendous amount of cognitive control, self-awareness, situational awareness and emotional regulation.
To study the protective effects of mindfulness training on psychological health in individuals about to experience extreme stress, cognitive neuroscientist Amishi Jha of the Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Penn and Elizabeth A. Stanley of Georgetown University provided mindfulness training for the first time to U.S. Marines before deployment. Jha and her research team investigated working memory capacity and affective experience in individuals participating in a training program developed and delivered by Stanley, a former U.S. Army officer and security-studies professor with extensive experience in mindfulness techniques.
The program, called Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT™), aims to cultivate greater psychological resilience or “mental armor” by bolstering mindfulness.
The program covered topics of central relevance to the Marines, such as integrating skills to manage stress reactions, increase their resilience to future stressors and improve their unit’s mission effectiveness. Thus, the program blended mindfulness skills training with concrete applications for the operational environment and information and skills about stress, trauma and resilience in the body.
Click to read the rest of "Building Fit Minds Under Stress: Penn Neuroscientists Examine the Protective Effects of Mindfulness Training."
Click to read the research article "Examining the Protective Effects of Mindfulness Training on Working Memory Capacity and Affective Experience" (Emotion) [pdf]. Also here [pdf]. Abstract:
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.
Alvaro Fernandez at SharpBrains writes:
Please note that this wasn’t a properly randomized study, so in fact much/ most of the effect may be due to the placebo effect, but still the findings seem to be consistent with a growing body of evidence on the brain-based effects of structured mental training in the form of meditation (usually mindfulness meditation).
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