Entropy Rules

Constructive Response:

Adaptive Skills Improve Executive Control

    Adaptive functioning in the face of significant mental health challenges, such as those that may be faced by adult survivors of child maltreatment, may involve an enhanced awareness of unhelpful urges as well as the ability to inhibit unhelpful urges. For example, in a moment of intense frustration a parent may experience the urge to scream at their child; whether or not the parent is able to inhibit such a response could make the difference between perpetrating maltreatment or not.
    Sahdra et al. (2011) conducted an RCT, the Shamatha Project, which involved an intensive 3-month meditation retreat. Participation in the retreat led to significant improvements in response inhibition as measured by a laboratory task. Furthermore, they found that improvements in response inhibition predicted greater self-reported adaptive functioning (a composite construct that included self-reported trait mindfulness, adult attachment, ego resilience, empathy, difficulties in emotion regulation, depression, anxiety, and psychological well-being). The Shamatha Project provides high-quality empirical support that intensive meditation training can enhance the ability to refrain from engaging in maladaptive, habitual behavior (Sahdra et al., 2011). Furthermore, the authors connect improvements in response inhibition to improvements in metacognitive monitoring which underlies the ability to monitor one's cognitions and presumably also monitor and modulate emotion and behavior (e.g., Berger, Kohman, Livneh, & Henik, 2007; Fonagy, Gergely, & Target, 2008; Hesse, 2008). Previous research has also associated improved executive control (e.g., response inhibition), with increased self-reported mindfulness and reduced depression (Chambers et al., 2008).
    To summarize, mindfulness has been linked to certain cognitive abilities that may play a key role in allowing adult survivors of child maltreatment to navigate the sequelae of child maltreatment in ways that support positive parenting. These cognitive abilities include metacognitive capacity (e.g., Fissler et al., 2016; Nitzan-Assayag et al., 2015; Weber & Taylor, 2016), improved attentional control (Scheibner et al., 2016; Walsh et al., 2009) and response inhibition (e.g., Sahdra et al., 2011), and reduced cognitive bias (e.g., Keng et al., 2016). These findings from basic research, though promising, are limited in that the majority of these studies did not account for variables key to the question of utilizing mindfulness for interrupting the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment, such as maltreatment and meditation histories.
    In order to get a better understanding of the effects of mindfulness when applied to populations of child maltreatment survivors, research examining the impact of mindfulness on trauma-related outcomes is considered next.

⇲ About The Author

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