Does mindfulness meditation influence our selective attention in terms of Stroop interference? The purpose of this study is to find out how much effective mindfulness meditation is in enhancing the selection process caused by stroop interference. To conduct the study, 145 undergraduate students were chosen. An online experiment was conducted using PsyToolkit tool which is an online experiment platform. Mentioning of gender and age is not done to maintain the anonymity of the participants. ). The result suggests that participants in the Mindfulness Meditation Condition were significantly less impaired by incongruent colour-word pairings, than participants in the Control Condition. Further analysis of the result indicates that the significant difference in Stroop Interference scores cannot be attributed to individual differences in baseline mindfulness traits. It can be concluded that the mindfulness meditation is an effective method to increase the selection process and tackle the stroop interference.
Keywords: Attention, Selective attention, Inhibitory control, Stroop task / Stroop effect, Meditation, Mindfulness
Many psychological, spiritual and philosophical attributes focuses on the quality of consciousness and its well-being. One attribute of consciousness that has been much-discussed in relation to well-being is mindfulness (Brown & Ryan, 2003). The concept of mindfulness started during the age of Buddha and other related traditions. Recent researches shows that the mindfulness can be enhanced by proper training. Mindfulness was defines in a variety of ways by various scholars. Mindfulness is when the quality of conscious becomes extremely high, which is characterized by clarity in vividness in the experience of the present. Mindfulness is important in disengaging people from interruptive thoughts, unhealthy habits and negative behaviour. Many theories of self-regulation has been put forward to elaborate the attention and awareness in preservation and enrichment of psychological and behavioural functioning. Mindfulness is intrinsically a state of consciousness. Not every self-regulatory behaviour requires mindfulness and conscious awareness for interruptive performance, but some daily life behaviour is done automatically or mindlessly (Bargh, 1997; Deci & Ryan, 1980; Tart, 1994). There are many situations where attention toward psychological, somatic and environmental hints is the key component of mindfulness. An experiment by LeBel and Dube´ (2001) found that individuals who were focused more on sensory experience of eating chocolate enjoys it more than those who were doing distraction tasks while eating chocolate. More broadly, research has found that inherently inspired and flow happenings, which can be characterized by focused attention and full engagement with the task, lead to more enjoyment and sensation of vitality.
Mindfulness meditation is assumed to work by relocating the mind on the present and increasing consciousness of one’s external environments and inner vibrations, allowing the person, to take a step back and reframe everything with better awareness (Hilton et. al, 2016). Emotions are regulated and channelized. Emotional regulation is defined as the process through which a person regulates their emotions consciously or unconsciously. A person who mastered the emotional regulation live a healthier life, better personal professional relationship and peaceful mind.
Interference in serial verbal task have been demonstrated by various experimentations. The stroop task developed by Stroop in 1935 requires to identify the font colour or the word as quickly and accurately as possible without reading the word. Despite this simple requirement, the output if often erroneous and take longer duration for colour-incongruent stroop words (Ferrand & Augustinova, 2019). Studies shows that stroop interference is an age dependent phenomenon. The interference of contradictory colour stimuli upon the time for reading 100 words caused an increase of 2.3 seconds or 5.6% over the normal time for reading the same words printed in black. However, this increase is not reliable. But the interference of conflicting word stimuli upon the time for naming 100 colours caused an increase of 47.0 seconds or 74.3% of the normal time for naming colours printed in squares (Stroop, 1935).
Meditation was used since early age to calm down the mind and increase the general awareness of an individual about the inner self and surrounding environment. A reduction in anxiety, depression and stress was shown when the participant were asked to do meditation for eight weeks. Also the reaction time for incongruent stroop task condition was noted (Zhang, 2019). That study comprises of four weeks of focusing attention training and four weeks of open monitoring training. Mindfulness training requires surrendering oneself to whatever happens and reducing judgemental thinking, more than conceptualising and classifying emotions.
PsyToolkit is an online service designed to setting up, conducting and analysing online survey and reaction time based experiments. To start with, there is a lesson section, which is categorised into four categories. Each of these lesson have demonstrative task which can run on any web browser, like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer etc. One can create own login account, where the user can create and save multiple questionnaire and experiments. Another resource is library which can be accessed without login, can have many classic psychological experiments like Stroop task, N-back task, Visual search etc. The fourth resource is a list of psychological questionnaire from 80 different peer-reviewed scale. A short description, literature review and background of the psychological problem is also given (Stoet, 2016).
It seems like mindfulness meditation may elevate person’s performance in different area of life. But the question here is, can mindfulness meditation influence our selective attention in terms of Stroop interference? To know the answer an experiment was conducted. The experiment conducted, combines are mindfulness along with the stroop interference, and emphasized on the possible positive output. The participants were asked to go through mindfulness meditation activity available online on stop, breathe, think app or website, to increase and revive the mindfulness. The result obtained was positive but on further analysing the result, something more was discovered.
Participants were 145 undergraduate students from the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP). All participants were required to be over 18 years of age and participated voluntarily as part of their studies. Failure to participate did not impact the participants’ progression in the unit of study. The age and gender of participants were not recorded to ensure anonymity of participation within a required unit of study.
The primary task in this experiment was modelled on the original Stroop Task (Stroop, 1935). The digital Stroop Task was presented via PsyToolkit, an online experiment presentation platform (Stoet, 2010; 2017). The stimuli were the words RED, GREEN, YELLOW and BLUE, presented in the congruent coloured ink (Congruent Trials) or incongruent coloured ink (Incongruent Trials). The words were presented in the centre of the screen on a black background and remained on the screen until the participant responded, with a maximum timeout of 3000ms.
A five-minute Mindfulness Meditation recording from Stop, Breathe and Think (www.stopbreathethink.com) was used as the five-minute experimental Mini-Intervention condition. The comparison control Mini-Intervention condition involved watching an approximately four and a half minute long motivational speech, which did not induce mindfulness but approximated the same audio-visual environment as the other Mini-Intervention condition.
To control for previous mindfulness-based practice, participants completed the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS; Brown & Ryan, 2003). This 15-item scale assessed trait mindfulness and the general tendency to show receptive attention to events happening in the moment.
All aspects of the experiment were presented, and data was collected, via Qualtrics (http://www.qualtrics.com).
Participants were instructed to access the Qualtrics survey link via the PSYC1032/5152 class spaces. Instructions were given to each class verbally and in text format. After reading through the instructions, participants completed the Mini-Intervention Phase. Assignment to Mindfulness or Control interventions was made randomly at the class level, with six classes completing the mindfulness activity and six completing the control activity. Participants in the Mindfulness Condition were asked to sit quietly with eyes closed and arms relaxed, and follow along with the instructions on the Mindfulness Meditation Recording, which was listened to using personal headphones. Participants in the Control condition were also asked sit quietly, with eyes open, and listen to the motivational speech using personal headphones.
On completion of the Mini-Interventions, all participants commenced the Stroop Task. The task began with instructions on how to respond, with participants asked to respond to the COLOUR that the word was printed in. For example if the word RED appeared (in green ink), the participant should respond GREEN. Participants responded in each trial by using the computer keyboard and pressing “R” to indicate red ink, “G” to indicate green ink , “Y” to indicate yellow ink and “B” to indicate blue ink. The time taken to respond to each item and the accuracy of response was recorded. Feedback on task accuracy was given continuously throughout the task.
A total of 80 trials were conducted (40 per congruency condition) in a completely randomised order. At the completion of the experiment, participants were provided with three scores (Congruent RT, Incongruent RT, and Stroop Interference) which they were to enter into the qualtrics survey. All participants then completed the MAAS to conclude the experiment.
Participants were debriefed as to the purpose of the study immediately after the experiment was completed. Copies of all materials were provided to students to allow for experiencing the Mini-Interventions given to both groups. Note that due to time constraints, a ‘pre-test’ baseline of Stroop performance was not collected. Rather, given the random assignment of students to groups, the differences in post-intervention scores on Stroop Interference were taken to reflect change due to the effects (or not) of mindfulness training.
Data analyses were conducted using IBM SPSS Statistics Package (version 25.0). After correcting for missing, incomplete, or incorrect data, the responses of 142 participants (n Control = 70, n Mindfulness = 72) were retained for further analysis.
A measure of Stroop Interference (the amount by which a participant’s response time was interrupted by the presence of an incongruent colour/word pairing) was calculated by subtracting the average reaction time for Congruent trials from the average reaction time for Incongruent trials for each participant. That is, Stroop Interference was equal to Average Incongruent Reaction Time minus Average Congruent Reaction Time. Each participant’s Stroop Interference score was obtained and the average Stroop Interference score for each of the two Mini-Intervention Conditions, across all participants, was calculated.
Initial descriptive analyses (as shown in Figure 1) revealed that mean Stroop Interference in the Mindfulness Meditation Condition (M = 74.79, SD = 103.48) was less than mean Stroop Interference in the Control Condition (M = 128.31, SD = 117.35). Inferential statistics (not reported or discussed here) were consistent with the trend in the descriptive statistics, showing Stroop Interference in the Mindfulness Meditation Condition to be significantly lower than in Control Condition (p<.05). This suggests that participants in the Mindfulness Meditation Condition were significantly less impaired by incongruent colour-word pairings, than participants in the Control Condition.
Analysis of the MAAS survey further showed that there was no difference in trait mindfulness skills for participants in the Mindfulness Meditation Condition (M = 52.53, SD = 11.40), compared to the participants in the Control Condition (M = 56.50, SD = 12.12). As shown in Figure 2, there was no correlation between Stroop Interference Scores and MAAS scores (r = -0.108, p = .20). This indicates that the significant difference in Stroop Interference scores cannot be attributed to individual differences in baseline mindfulness traits.
The overall effectiveness of the experiment was much efficient, but there are some drawbacks also. One such drawback is time restraints on the lack of a pre-test. A proper pre-test, is conducted, then the results can be more comparable. Another drawback was a meditation time period for just five minutes was allotted. Many participants may find it very less due to lack of focus ability. If done for a longer period of time, say for few weeks and then conducted the test, the result might be more satisfactory.
Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.
Ferrand, L & Augustinova, (2019). Stroop interference is a composite phenomenon: Evidence from distinct developmental trajectories of its components. Developmental science, 13, 208. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00208
Hilton, L. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(2), 199–213, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-016-9844-2
Stoet, G. (2010). PsyToolkit - A software package for programming psychological experiments using Linux. Behavior Research Methods, 42, 1096-1104.
Stoet, G. (2017). PsyToolkit: A novel web-based method for running online questionnaires and reaction-time experiments. Teaching of Psychology, 44, 24-31.
Stroop, J. R. (1935). Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 18, 643-662.
7. Zhang, Q. & Wang, Z. (2019). The Effects of Different Stages of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Emotion Regulation. Frontier in human neuroscience, 13, 208.
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