Hocus Focus

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Hocus Focus

From a cognitive psychologist’s point of view, these results are particularly impressive because they demonstrate transfer. There are a number of training tools that are marketed as improving mental processes. While a number of these show improvement on the training task itself, very few show improvement on things outside of the task (4). In other words: if you do a sudoku puzzle every day you’ll get very good at sudoku, but nothing else. In contrast, several studies have shown that meditation and mindfulness training have shown improvement on attention tasks that are very different from the training task (1, 5).

So should every student get training in mindfulness? Maybe! I think it’s important to note that the mindfulness training in this experiment followed a pretty structured regimen. The researchers also noted that the classes were taught by professionals. Therefore it is important to carefully evaluate any program that claims to improve cognitive performance to make sure it isn’t just a bunch of hocus focus.

(1) Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B., & Schooler, J. W. (2013). Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Psychological Science24(5), 776–781. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612459659

(2) Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H. S., Levinson, D. B., Davidson, R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 104, 11483–11488. doi:10.1073/pnas.0606552104

(3) Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 303–322. 

(4) Sala, G., & Gobet, F. (2017). Does far transfer exist? Negative evidence from chess, music, and working memory training. Current Directions in Psychological Science. Online First Publication. DOI: 10.1177/0963721417712760

(5) Hodgins, H. S., & Adair, K. C. (2010). Attentional processes and meditation. Consciousness and Cognition, 19(4), 872-878. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2010.04.002