Training attentional processes.

Abstract

Figure 1. Hypothetical relationship between intervention approaches that focus on In the current issue, Tang and Posner [1] review some of the latest research on attention-related interventions that the authors separate into ‘attention training’ (e.g. computer based exercises), and ‘attention state training’ (e.g. integrative body-mind training, exposure to nature). What is common to these two types of training is their ability not only to improve trained processes, but also to have effects that transfer to other, non-trained processes and abilities. These findings are very exciting with a wide range of applicability. Although the authors’ [1] distinction between the two types of interventions is interesting, we would like to propose an alternative view on how to integrate these findings into a testable model that explains how the different training regimens interact (Figure 1). Furthermore, we propose a research agenda to test this model. First, we believe that all the training interventions discussed by Tang and Posner [1] (mindfulness-based training, integrative body-mind training, exposure to nature and the cognitive exercises) focus on attentional processes. However, there could be aspects of attention that are tapped differentially by the different training regimens. Therefore, it might be more appropriate to express the differences in training in terms of practicing a specific attentional process as in the contrast between cognitive exercises versus restoring attentional processes with exposure to natural environments (meditation might also have similar effects, but meditation combines resting and focusing which complicates its classification as either a strengthening process or a resting process). Exercise regimens help strengthen directed or top-down attentional mechanisms via practice, whereas restoration regimens bolster directed attention mechanisms by allowing them to rest (consistent with Kaplan’s attention restoration theory [2]). Another distinction we see is that exercise regimens are more active or controlled, whereas restorative regimens are more passive or automatic. Yet another contrast between these two views is that exercise regimens might increase neural activation in cognitive control regions, whereas restorative or passive regimens might decrease activation in these same areas. In summary, we believe that it could be more profitable to discuss these different interventions in terms of a distinction between exercise versus rest rather than a distinction between ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ attentional training. Although these different interventions lead to many similar improvements, the processes altered by these different regimens (strengthening versus restoring) could also lead to some differential effects. For example,

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