The scientific interest in meditation and mindfulness practice has recently seen an unprecedented surge. After an initial phase of presenting beneficial effects of mindfulness practice in various domains, research is now seeking to unravel the underlying psychological and neurophysiological mechanisms. Advances in understanding these processes are required for improving and fine-tuning mindfulness-based interventions that target specific conditions such as eating disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. This review presents a theoretical framework that emphasizes the central role of attentional control mechanisms in the development of mindfulness skills. It discusses the phenomenological level of experience during meditation, the different attentional functions that are involved, and relates these to the brain networks that subserve these functions. On the basis of currently available empirical evidence specific processes as to how attention exerts its positive influence are considered and it is concluded that meditation practice appears to positively impact attentional functions by improving resource allocation processes. As a result, attentional resources are allocated more fully during early processing phases which subsequently enhance further processing. Neural changes resulting from a pure form of mindfulness practice that is central to most mindfulness programs are considered from the perspective that they constitute a useful reference point for future research. Furthermore, possible interrelations between the improvement of attentional control and emotion regulation skills are discussed.
Keywords: meditation, mindfulness, attentional control, Stroop, attention
Citation: Malinowski P (2013) Neural mechanisms of attentional control in mindfulness meditation. Front. Neurosci. 7:8. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2013.00008
Received: 05 October 2012; Accepted: 11 January 2013;
Published online: 04 February 2013.
Edited by:Amishi P. Jha, University of Miami, USA
Reviewed by:Tonya L. Jacobs, University of California, Davis, USA
Copyright © 2013 Malinowski. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.