08/11/13 0

Mindfulness training improves attentional task performance in incarcerated youth: a group randomized controlled intervention trial

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  • 1College of Nursing, New York University, New York, NY, USA
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA
  • 3Lionheart Foundation, Boston, MA, USA

We investigated the impact of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness training (CBT/MT) on attentional task performance in incarcerated adolescents. Attention is a cognitive system necessary for managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals like incarceration and the events leading to incarceration, may deplete attention resulting in cognitive failures, emotional disturbances, and impulsive behavior. We hypothesized that CBT/MT may mitigate these deleterious effects of high stress and protect against degradation in attention over the high-stress interval of incarceration. Using a quasi-experimental, group randomized controlled trial design, we randomly assigned dormitories of incarcerated youth, ages 16–18, to a CBT/MT intervention (youth n = 147) or an active control intervention (youth n = 117). Both arms received approximately 750 min of intervention in a small-group setting over a 3–5 week period. Youth in the CBT/MT arm also logged the amount of out-of-session time spent practicing MT exercises. The Attention Network Test was used to index attentional task performance at baseline and 4 months post-baseline. Overall, task performance degraded over time in all participants. The magnitude of performance degradation was significantly less in the CBT/MT vs. control arm. Further, within the CBT/MT arm, performance degraded over time in those with no outside-of-class practice time, but remained stable over time in those who practiced mindfulness exercises outside of the session meetings. Thus, these findings suggest that sufficient CBT/MT practice may protect against functional attentional impairments associated with high-stress intervals.

Keywords: adolescent development, incarcerated adolescents, detained adolescents, stress, attention, mindfulness meditation

Citation: Leonard NR, Jha AP, Casarjian B, Goolsarran M, Garcia C, Cleland CM, Gwadz MV and Massey Z (2013) Mindfulness training improves attentional task performance in incarcerated youth: a group randomized controlled intervention trial. Front. Psychol. 4:792. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00792

Received: 18 June 2013; Paper pending published: 10 August 2013;
Accepted: 08 October 2013; Published online: 08 November 2013.

Edited by:

Zoran Josipovic, New York University, USA

Reviewed by:

Patricia A. Jennings, Pennsylvania State University, USA
Robert W. Roeser, Portland State University, USA

Copyright © 2013 Leonard, Jha, Casarjian, Goolsarran, Garcia, Cleland, Gwadz and Massey. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Noelle R. Leonard, New York University College of Nursing, 726 Broadway, 10th floor, New York, NY 10003, USA e-mail: