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The Role of Mindfulness in Critical Thinking

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Chris Noone

on 17 June 2014

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Transcript of The Role of Mindfulness in Critical Thinking

The Role of Mindfulness in Critical Thinking
“the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [i.e., master of him or herself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”
- William James
What a sad comment on modern educational systems that most learners neither value nor practice active, critical reflection. They are too busy studying to stop and think.
Sadder still, many educators don't reflect either. They must be too busy 'teaching'
- (Hammond & Collins, 1991 )

A Short History of Mindfulness
In the mid 20th century, attention began to turn towards the idea of positive mental health
led to the exploration of other traditions beyond psychology such as Eastern philosophy
Translation of the term
from the Indo-Aryan language of Pali

“it signifies presence of mind, attentiveness to the present, rather than the faculty of memory regarding the past.
It has the characteristic of not wobbling, i.e. not floating away from the object. Its function is absence of confusion or non-forgetfulness. It is manifested as guardianship, or as the state of confronting an objective field.”
- Acariya Anuruddha (8th century Buddhist monk)

The development of MBSR by
Jon Kabat-Zinn played the key role in introducing mindfulness into the field of psychology and medicine
In the last 20 years, mindfulness has become the focus of considerable attention for the clinical and scientific community
Research on Mindfulness has increased
and become more sophisticated
There is still a lack of consensus on a standard operational definition of mindfulness
First attempts at definition by Kabat-Zinn
"Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to
what is taking place in the present moment"
- (Kabat-Zinn, 1982).

‘‘awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment’’
- (Kabat-Zinn, 2003
Some definitions are influenced
by cognitive neuroscience
Mindfulness practice consists primarily of focused-attention and open-monitoring practices.
Focused attention involves repeated attention fixation, for example, on the sensation of breath entering the nostril, whereas open monitoring trains nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experience
- (Lutz et al., 2008).

Others are more influenced by Cognitive Psychology
(1) an intentional state of meta-awareness
(awareness of being aware of something), and (2) an open and receptive attitude to content of experience (Holas & Jankowski, 2012)

Bishop et al. (2004) define mindfulness in two parts:
(1) ‘‘the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment’’ and
(2) ‘‘a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.’’

Some are more influenced by Social Psychology
Langer considers mindfulness as

‘‘a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new
things and sensitive to context,’’

as opposed to mindlessness,
‘‘acting according to the sense our behavior made in the past, rather than the present ... we are stuck in a single, rigid perspective and we are oblivious to alternative ways of knowing.’’

Behavioural accounts also exist...
From an RFT perspective, mindfulness is defined as:
the defused, accepting, open contact with the present moment
and the private events it contains as a conscious human being experientially distinct from the content being noticed.

These conceptualizations describe mindfulness on many different
as a psychological process,
an outcome,
a specific technique,
a general method or collection of techniques
Mindfulness is associated with both state and trait-like effects.

State effects refer to changes that occur in individuals while they engage in mindfulness practice.

In contrast, trait-like changes occur gradually over time as a consequence of sustained mindfulness practice andpersist throughout the day

Physical Health Outcomes
- Reductions in chronic pain
and other medical symptoms
- Improve immune function
- Health-related quality of life
- therapeutic effect on stress-related medical conditions, including psoriasis , Type 2 diabetes , fibromyalgia , rheumatoid arthritis
- Lower cortisol levels
- Less inflammation
- better ability to quit smoking
- decreased binge eating
- reduced alcohol and illicit substance use
- Healthier eating
- increase in telomerase activity

Mental Health Outcomes
- Management of stress
- Reductions in anxiety and depression
- Decreased rumination
- Greater emotional regulation
- Increased self-control
- Increase positive emotions
- Increased self-compassion
- Increasing openness to experience
- Improved sleep quality

Used in ACT, MBCT and DBT
Cognitive Outcomes
Most definitions imply that executive functions and attentional processes are fundamental in initiating and maintaining a mindfulness state

Behavioural and neuroscientific studies have shown
Better sustained attention
Improved selective attention
Switching attention is easier
Better performance on attentional blink and change blindness tasks
Increased memory specificity
Greater working memory capacity

Although less extensively investigated, executive functions could be improved through mindfulness practice
The sustained attention to current experience
developed through mindfulness practice likely requires the ability to
attention between stimuli in current experience and back to current experience when the mind wanders,
the contents of working memory as current experience changes and
of elaborative processing

Mindfulness and Switching
Improvements on the Attention Network Task, Jha and colleagues (2007), relative to controls, folllowing MBSR course

In comparison to a waitlist control-group, an experimental group showed improvement on the Internal Switching task after a 10-day mindfulness retreat
improvement was significantly correlated with self-reported increases in mindfulness (Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2007).

Mindfulness and Working Memory Updating
no studies have examined the effects of mindfulness practice on working memory updating specifically
After a 10-day mindfulness retreat, working memory capacity improved in a mindfulness group compared to a waitlist control-group (Chambers et al., 2007)

Also, in a military group prior to deployment, the deleterious effects of stress on working memory capacity were buffered against for those participants who reported high levels of mindfulness practice during an intervention (Jha et al., 2010).

Mindfulness and Inhibition
Better performance foundon the Stroop task in experienced meditators (Chan & Woollacott, 2007), following a 6-week mindfulness training (Allen et al., 2012), after a brief induction (Wenk-Sormaz, 2005), and in association with dispositional mindfulness in adolescents (Oberle, Schonert-Reichl, Lawlor, & Thomson, 2011).
The Methodological Challenges
Over-reliance on cross-sectional designs
Control and comparison groups
Different mindfulness techniques and different stages of practice
Adherence to practice
Short-term and long-term training

Critical Thinking is defined as “purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based”
- (Facione 1990).

Critical thinking (CT) is recognised a cognitive process which involves the successful evaluation and analysis of evidence and arguments
without bias
from experience and prior knowledge.

This requires a
non-automatic response
to the situation in order to avoid heuristic and biased thinking (West, Toplak, & Stanovich, 2008). Situations in which our learned responses are not adaptive (or where no learned response exists) require
executive control.

One way of cultivating a more controlled orientation to experience, and possibly more skill in the application of executive functions, is through mindfulness practice (Chiesa et al., 2011; Moore & Malinowski, 2009; Ostafin & Kassman, 2012),

Mindfulness may support Critical Thinking in other key ways
Metacognitive aspects
Reduced effect of emotion on decision-making
Reduced effect of emotion on information processsing
Get involved!
5 questionnaires online - approx. 1 hour
can be completed at your leisure before coming to the lab session

6 short computerised tasks in lab session - approx. 1 hour
Full transcript