Entropy Rules


Control In Improving Cognition Bias Neural Network

    Another important process relevant to the parenting experiences of adult survivors of child maltreatment, and all parents, is attentional control, or the ability to shift attention away from unhelpful stimuli (e.g., rumination) towards a chosen target (e.g., the intention to be present with one's child). This ability may be lacking in adult survivors of child maltreatment who have demonstrated negative biases in attention (e.g., Lynch & Cicchetti, 1998).
    For example, one study found that attentional control partially mediated the negative association between trait mindfulness and adult attachment anxiety (Walsh, Balint, Smolira, Fredericksen, & Madsen, 2009). This illustrates that mindfulness may help alleviate attachment insecurity by promoting greater attentional control. Attentional control appears to ameliorate the anxiety that stems from uncontrollable threat-related thinking and attentional biases towards threatening stimuli that characterize both trait and attachment anxiety. However, attachment avoidance was found to be unrelated to mindfulness. The authors speculate that this could be due to the fact that certain aspects of attachment avoidance resemble mindfulness (e.g., non-elaboration on cognition), while other aspects of attachment avoidance may be less compatible with mindfulness (e.g., denial of attachment related feelings; Walsh et al., 2009).
    Low attentional control may also be related to ruminative tendencies among individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is a syndrome that has been linked to an emotionally invalidating (e.g., emotionally neglectful or abusive) environment in childhood (Linehan, 1993). BPD is a diagnosis often garnered by adult survivors of child maltreatment, and mindfulness is a central component of the only empirically-supported treatment used to treat BPD, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (Linehan, 1993). Individuals with BPD have been found to report levels of rumination even greater than those reported by individuals with depression (Abela, Payne, & Moussaly, 2003). In BPD, rumination may play a key causal role in producing dysfunctional behavior via an "emotional cascade" which results from a distressing feedback loop between negative affect and rumination in response to a trigger (Selby & Joiner, 2008). Selby, Fehling, Panza, and Kranzler (2016) found that rumination partially mediated the association between BPD symptoms and low mindfulness.
    Another study examined mindfulness difficulties in individuals with BPD (Scheibner, Spengler, Kanske, Roepke, & Bermpohl, 2016). This study used a unique objective behavioral assessment of mindfulness, recording self-reported awareness of mind wandering, and length of mind wandering in response to cues asking participants to report on these variables at regular intervals. Participants engaged in a period of focused mindfulness meditation, once with an experimenter prompting their reports of mind-wandering and again in a self-prompted task where participants reported on these variables independently. They found that in comparison to healthy controls, individuals with BPD experienced mind wandering more frequently and for a longer duration. However, this difference was only found in the experimenter prompted version of the task; no differences were found in mind wandering duration in the self-prompted task. Individuals with BPD actually detected their own mind wandering more frequently than controls in the self prompted task, indicating individuals with BPD are able to be mindful of their mind wandering at least as well as, if not better than, healthy controls (Scheibner et al., 2016).

Cognitive Bias

    Cognitive bias is another area of importance for child maltreatment survivors. As discussed previously, early life experiences contribute to the construction of cognitive schemata of the self, others, and the world. Child maltreatment often leads to problematic schemata associated with insecure attachment that must be overcome if the next generation is to be parented differently. Mindfulness may help reduce cognitive bias that comes from problematic cognitive schemata. For example, one study of 5th graders indicated that participation in a mindfulness based stress reduction style program was associated with improvements in cognitive inhibition and enhanced data-driven (as opposed to schema driven) information processing (Wimmer, Bellingrath, & von Stockhausen, 2016).
    A small body of research has examined whether mindfulness training can improve implicit dysfunctional attitudes. Implicit cognition is based on pre-existing self-, other-, and world-schemata based in previous experiences. Implicit cognitive biases are at times adaptive (e.g., time-saving; survival promoting) and at other times may bias perception in unhelpful ways (i.e., biases may be inaccurate and contribute to depression; Ingram, Miranda, & Segal, 1998). Researchers have found mindfulness practice to be associated with improvements in implicit cognitive functioning, including the ability to implicitly let go of upsetting stimuli (Waters et al., 2009), reduced implicit experiential avoidance (Hooper, Villatte Neofotistou, & McHugh, 2010), and reduced attentional bias (Lee & Orsillo, 2014).
    Keng, Seah, Tong and Smoski (2016) explored the ability of mindfulness to help reduce implicit dysfunctional attitudes within the context of a sad mood in a sample of mild to moderately depressed individuals. They compared a brief mindfulness induction (based on the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy "3-minute breathing space"; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002) to a thought wandering condition and examined the impact on both implicit and explicit dysfunctional attitudes. The impact of the sad mood induction on implicit and explicit dysfunctional attitudes depended on level of trait mindfulness, as measured by the FFMQ. Participants high in trait mindfulness who underwent the mindfulness induction showed significant improvements in implicit dysfunctional attitudes following the sad mood induction. However, those low in trait mindfulness demonstrated a worsening of implicit dysfunctional attitudes following the induction. This study was limited in that the level of prior mindfulness meditation experience was not assessed. That said, the pattern of results may indicate that those new to mindfulness may require additional scaffolding and support as they learn mindfulness skills before a demonstrable improvement of dysfunctional implicit attitudes becomes salient (Keng et al., 2016).

⇲ About The Author

Robin Hertz, MA is currently in the process of completing a PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Oregon.