Does Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Increase Attention?

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen suggests that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), a technique known to decrease stress and symptoms of trauma, depression and anxiety, can also increase focused attention. A primary tenet of MSBR is concentrating on the present moment and achieving self-actualization through meditation. “Furthermore, attentional training and improvement are core elements in traditional meditation practices, and meditation types are often defined according to their attentional characteristics,” said the researchers. According to the study, MSBR, which encourages embracing a non-judgmental attitude and open and accepting presence, may also increase an individual’s ability to sustain attention. Although people who regularly practice MBSR may have already realized significant relief from symptoms of stress and anxiety, they may be enjoying increased attention spans as a result as well.

To test their theory, the researchers randomly enrolled 48 participants into traditional MSBR therapy, non-mindfulness stress reduction (NMSR) or into the control group. After the therapy, the participants were required to complete five separate attentional tasks over two hours including the Dual Attention to Response Task (DART), the Spatial and Temporal Attention Network (STAN), the Stroop color-word task, and the d2 Test of Attention to determine selective attention. The team discovered that the participants in the MBSR group showed significantly more mindfulness and concentrated attention than the control group. Additionally, the same participants experienced the lowest amount of perceived stress of all the participants. “Physiologically, the MBSR group showed significantly decreased cortisol secretion and significantly lower secretion than did the inactive controls at T2 [time two],” said the team. “From pre- to post-test, cortisol secretions were reduced significantly more in the MBSR group than in the inactive controls.” In addition to the benefits previously revealed from MBSR, these new findings suggest that this form of therapy may offer additional positive outcomes for individuals suffering from impaired attention due to psychological stress.

Jensen, C. G., Vangkilde, S., Frokjaer, V., & Hasselbalch, S. G. (2011, September 12). Mindfulness Training Affects Attention—Or Is It Attentional Effort?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024931

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • George

    September 22nd, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    This is great news..Think about all those kids with Adhd…They could benefit so much from this kind of a procedure..Attention spans decreasing to very low levels is not good for non Adhd individuals either, as I think it can make a person prone to irritability and can make a person impatient and restless.

  • Clara B

    September 22nd, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    Well this is no surprise. If you are going through therapy that helps to reduce your stress, then you are going to be better able to focus without worry and anxiety. I think that all of us know from experience that the more stress you have in life the less you can concentrate on the important things going on in life. Very worthwhile to advance this treatment method.

  • Kenneth.M

    September 23rd, 2011 at 1:53 AM

    I’d love to be able to get rid of all the distracting thoughts that seem to follow me wherever I go and be able to concentrate with full attention on the task at hand. It has been long since I have been able to do that . Can mindfulness therapy be employed for someone without an actual stress condition?

  • UC Berkley Jim

    September 24th, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    As a person who has suffered from ADD all my life, I’m very happy to here about this therapy. With ADD attention wasn’t my only problem, I was also faced with the temptation to take prescription drugs like Ritalin to compensate for my ADD. A therapy such as this one will give people an alternative to medication. With the added bonus of therapy not having side effects like destruction of the liver!!!

    I’d like to know how well this compares to prescription drugs because I would consider going off my medicine and switch to MBSR if it works as well as you claim. It would be better for my health and my wallet.

  • Peter Strong

    October 30th, 2011 at 7:59 AM

    Mindfulness teaches us how to moderate the thought activity. We have a tendency to get lost in our thoughts – the racing mind or “monkey mind” in which we become sucked into the frantic and stressful flow of proliferating thoughts. This is called Reactive Thinking, and it is a habit, and like all habits it thrives on unawareness.
    When we shine mindfulness on the flow of thoughts, we interrupt this habitual process, because of the simple principle of Mindfulness Psychology: You cannot be both mindful and reactive at the same time. It must be one or the other.

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