Tinnitus is a condition in which people are highly distracted by sounds that most people do not hear. People with tinnitus often hear ringing or buzzing even though there is nothing external causing the sound. This can result in distraction and emotional reactivity. When this occurs, cognitive resources may become depleted. Strategies for managing tinnitus include suppression, acceptance, and avoidance, among others. But how do these unique methods affect cognitive performance?
Hugo Hesser of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Learning at the Swedish Institute for Disability Research at Linkoping University in Sweden wanted to find out. In a recent study, Hesser enlisted 199 participants with normal hearing and had them complete a mentally challenging task while they were exposed to an annoying sound. They were instructed to either suppress the sound, or do nothing. Next, the participants underwent an attention control task or a mindfulness condition, after which they had to complete math problems while the sound persisted.
Hesser evaluated how well suppression worked in the first task, and how well mindfulness helped cognitive performance in the second task. He found that the participants who were instructed to suppress the sound performed far worse than those who did not suppress the sound. Further, the mindfulness condition reversed this effect.
Hesser believes that cognitive resources used to suppress a sound may actually cause the sound to become more prominent. In other words, when someone focuses intensely on avoiding something, they get more of it. In this case, as participants worked hard to ignore and suppress the sound, they were more distracted by it. After they underwent the mindfulness condition, however, they were able to accept the sound and perform the work at levels equal to participants who were never asked to suppress the sound.
Therefore, mindfulness did not appear to improve cognitive ability above and beyond other measures, but was successful at reversing the negative effects caused by suppression. Hesser said, “This finding is highly consistent with theories that posit that mindfulness and related processes such acceptance may undermine ineffective control strategies.” As such, further research should explore ways in which mindfulness may help with other maladaptive coping mechanisms common among various types of psychological illnesses.
Hesser, H., Molander, P., Jungermann, M., Andersson, G. (2013). Costs of Suppressing Emotional Sound and Countereffects of a Mindfulness Induction: An Experimental Analog of Tinnitus Impact. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64540. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064540
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.