Date of Award

12-1-2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Rehabilitation

First Advisor

Dixon, Mark

Abstract

Over the past decade children have been facing increasingly large deficits towards their ability to pay attention. The inability to pay attention impacts children in every facet of their lives from focusing at school, in their home life, after school activities, etc. Inattention may impact children’s school performance, formation of social bonds, and the inability to pick up on appropriate social cues. Recently, more research has been conducted looking at attention processes in children and how they impact their daily functioning. However, a void lies in the treatments to help increase these deficits. The impact inattention has on children may be potentially harmful to their development and overall well-being. One type of treatment that may be beneficial in decreasing attention deficits is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the non-judgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise. Mindfulness is a treatment that has been recently gaining popularity in youth populations. Mindfulness is a type of treatment that differs from traditional approaches. The aim of mindfulness is to modify how a person interacts with their environment, teaching them to be aware of the stimuli in their environment, being in contact with their present moment, and helping to increase their overall attention. Experiment I sought to examine the effects of a 6 session, 120-minute Mindfulness Based Intervention utilizing mindfulness activities for children versus that of a Control Group when engaging in various attention tasks. The tasks targeted different attention processes (i.e. sustained attention and inhibitory control) and were presented to the participants at pre and posttest. Participants were selected for the Mindfulness Group or the Control Group based on age. Each participant completed four attention tasks (CPT-X Task, Go-No/Go Task, Visual Cancellation Task, and Crossword Puzzle Task) at the beginning of the study. After completion of the tasks, the Mindfulness Group participated in mindfulness activities and the Control Group continued with treatment as usual (their standard after school/summer curriculum). After the mindfulness training, all participants completed the attention tasks again. Experiment I results were indicative of statistically significant differences with respect to a number of dependent measures across groups. On the CPT-X task, a significant difference was shown at posttest in the experimental (M=1.90, SD=3.12) compared to the control (M=6.4, SD=5.18) group; t (40)=(-3.32), p= .002 on the total false alarms and targets missed. A significant difference was also shown at posttest in the experimental (M=1.55, SD=2.98) compared to the control (M=4.95, SD=4.75) group; t (40)= (-2.71), p= .01 for false alarms in the CPT-X task. When analyzing the Visual Cancellation Task outcomes, a significant difference was shown at posttest in the experimental (M=1.90, SD=3.12) compared to the control (M=6.4, SD=5.18) group; t (40)=(-3.32), p= .002 for total missed. A significant difference was also shown at posttest in the experimental (M=1.55, SD=2.98) compared to the control (M=4.95, SD=4.75) group; t (40)=(-2.71), p= .01 for false alarms on the Visual Cancellation Task. When both sustained attention tasks were compared to determine task outcomes, significant correlations were found between False Alarms on the CPT-X Task and the Visual Cancellation Task: r= .675, p= < .01. Significant correlations were also found between Total Missed on the CPT-X Task and the Visual Cancellation Task: r= .487, p< .05. These results suggest that on multiple attention tasks, sustained attention increased after exposure to mindfulness. Taken altogether, these results indicate that the introduction of a Mindfulness Based Intervention for children served to increase sustained attention. In order to compare the impact of a mindfulness-based training approach on impulsiveness, a multiple probe experimental design across participants was utilized in Experiment II with five participants formally diagnosed with ADHD. During baseline, the participants participated in the delay-discounting task and completed two questionnaires (AFQ-Y and CAMM). The training phases included mindfulness activities from Dixon (2014), ACT for Children with Autism and Emotional Disorders. After participating in the mindfulness activity, the participants were presented with the discounting task and the two questionnaires. Overall, increases in the participant’s discounting scores as measured by their AUC (Area Under the Curve) improved. This suggests that after receiving the mindfulness activities, the participants made less impulsive decisions towards monetary outcomes. Moderate changes on the CAMM self-report measure occurred for 3 out of 5 participants. The introduction of the mindfulness activities showed to increase self-control decision making and mindful awareness. Experiment III sought to examine the effects of a 5 day, 6 hour intensive mindfulness based camp utilizing mindfulness activities versus that of a control group. Participants for the experimental group were recruited via the community and the control group participants were age matched with the experimental group. Participants in the mindfulness camp participated in mindfulness activities across a 5 day period and completed two questionnaires (AFQ-Y and CAMM) before the camp began and again at the end of the last day. The AFQ-Y and CAMM questionnaires are empirically validated questionnaires used to measure psychological flexibility and mindful awareness outcomes with children. The control group did not receive any mindfulness training and completed the same two questionnaires 5 days apart. Results of Experiment III were indicative of statistically significant differences with respect to both dependent measures (AFQ-Y and CAMM) when analyzed within and across the experimental and control group. When analyzing the CAMM outcomes, a significant difference was shown at posttest in the experimental (M=29.66, SD=7.16) compared to the control (M=21.26, SD=8.22) group, t (30)= (2.98), p=.006. Additionally, a significant difference at posttest was shown in the experimental (M=17.13 SD=7.64) compared to the control (M=27.4, SD=12.30) group, t (30) = (-2.74), p= .010 on the AFQ-Y. Visual analysis of the AFQ-Y measure within the mindfulness group from pretest to posttest denotes a decrease in scores across 80% of the participants suggesting increases in psychological flexibility. Visual analysis of the CAMM measure within the mindfulness group from pretest to posttest shows an increase in scores across 67% of the participants suggesting increases in mindful awareness. Previous research has investigated the efficacy of mindfulness interventions with children with the total training contact hours varying. Results of the current study showed that in Experiment I, after a total of 120 minutes of mindfulness training, increases in attention were demonstrated across the experimental group. Experiment II demonstrated that mindfulness training was effective in altering decision making in children with ADHD and Experiment III results showed that after 30 hours of the mindfulness training, mindfulness served to facilitate increases in psychological flexibility and mindful awareness. Additionally, across experiments I and III, a greater influence on attention, mindful awareness, and psychological flexibility was shown compared to the control groups, suggesting the importance of mindfulness training with children.

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