The popularity of contemplative practices, training, and therapies is on the rise. Many research studies of these programs have been conducted, yet the benefits are not stable, the mechanisms are largely unknown, and there is difficulty in determining if an individual has learned the basic skills of the contemplative practice well enough to warrant any tractable benefits. Read the summarizing the state of the field and critical questions of interest that remain unanswered.
In addition to the numerous interventions in medical contexts, there are many new contexts in which programs inspired by contemplative practices are being conducted (e.g., educational settings, businesses, military). Yet, these too, suffer from many of the research limitations of uncontrolled or poorly controlled studies, few participants, and lack of standardization of practices to formally draw conclusions about efficacy. See the recent in the field of Contemplative Education by the Garrison Institute.
The intention for our research enterprise is to provide a research tool that will allow data to be amassed from multiple ongoing contemplative mind-body training contexts on the same neurobehavioral measures of cognitive and affective functioning. These measures will serve as a set of benchmarks that may better allow us to understand: 1) Efficacy of a particular training protocol. 2) Core mechanisms by which mind-body improvements may be instantiated.
Our computer-based battery of neurobehavioral tasks that will be available for online participation will provide 3rd person (objective) measures to complement the 1st person (self-reported) and 2nd person (e.g., clinician or teacher-reported) measures that are frequently collected in the context of many contemplative-based interventions.
The innovation of our Consortium’s approach is to offer our tasks online through the Online Testing Center. We do this because:
- We wish to reduce the invasiveness of research participation on those partaking in contemplative mind-body interventions. The motivation to participate in an intervention or retreat is rarely for the advancement of science, so we are grateful to all those who agree to take the time to complete our tests. (The experiments can be taken, for example, in your own home on your own home computer before leaving for a retreat and then again upon return, or before and after completion of an 8-week mindfulness program).
- We wish to increase the number and type of participants in whom cognitive and affective measures during contemplative programs are assessed. We strongly believe that a large-scale effort is necessary to more expeditiously learn about the proximal mechanisms of change that may result in more distal improvements in physical and mental health, social efficacy, and avenues for personal transformation.
In addition to furthering our basic research effort, our long term hope for intervention development is that our site can help to identify "best practices" in given contexts, so that interventions can be compared and contrasted, and intervention delivery can be quality controlled by use of objective neurobehavioral tasks as benchmarks of cognitive and affective functioning.
For those engaging in and leading retreats or training from extant contemplative traditions (e.g., meditation or yoga intensive retreats), they may learn more about the degree of correspondence between 1st and 2nd person views of what the practices do and 3rd person behavioral indices of core cognitive and affective functioning (such as the degree of mind-wandering, ability to overcome habitual responding, etc).
Jha AP, Baime MJ, Sreenivasan KK (in press) Attention and mindfulness training. In: RE Ingram (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of
Jha AP, Krompinger J, Baime MJ (2007) Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 7:109-119.
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Jha AP (2002) Tracking the time-course of attentional involvement in spatial working memory: An event-related potential investigation. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 15:61-69.
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