Eleazar Cruz Eusebio

Assistant Professor, The Chicago School Of Professional Psychology

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In training and sustaining the mindful brain for optimal performance, is there a difference between sustained attention and working memory?

In my exploration into school-aged children becoming more mindful and whether there are clear benefits of how practicing mindfulness can help alleviate negative responses to stressful and pressured sitiuations, I have approached a theory that children as well as their support systems must first yield to possibility before approaching situations and circumstances in which they may experience optimal performance. However, while investigating the process of how mindfulness icontributes to learning, I have discovered overlapping factors of attention and memory. Is some degree of sustained attention required to sustain working memory and/or vice versa? If so, to what degree? Can one perform optimally without one or the other? Furthermore, are both factors required for mindfulness training in children and adolescents? Finally, can school-aged children practice mindfulness and reap the benefits to the same degree as adults?

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    Oct 26 2011: Eleazar,

    Military elements and other emergency services throughout history have used training and drills to create a method of executing responses under stressful situations when sustained attention becomes difficult. This method takes full advantage of working memory to reduce the occurrence of mistakes brought on by stress. At the simplest level this is muscle memory, however a more complex variety involving multiple movements. The initial stimuli may be running out of ammunition, and the trained response is to execute a magazine change.

    What we find when encountered with extremely high levels of stress is a reduction in the ability to perform fine motor skills, and a greater recruitment of sustained attention to perform these tasks. For example, writing a coherent sentence on a piece of paper while receiving enemy fire would be very difficult for a soldier, however, this ability could be taught. Through repetition in training working memory, this soldier could be taught to perform this task under the applying stress.
    Here we see a shift from sustained attention to an emphasis on working memory when stress is applied. It is my opinion that in these types of situations, for optimal performance, one must discard sustained attention when the scenario fits the trained criterium, and apply working memory. However, when encountering a scenario that is untrained, sustained attention must again be applied and here we would see the greatest benefit of mindfulness.

    You discussed that you have found overlapping factors of attention and memory when applying mindfulness to learning. Could you elaborate on these factors? The act of learning in and of itself creates stress. I believe the level of stress has more to do with interest than the complexity of the subject. Therefore I believe there is a correlation between the level of interest and the level of stress, requiring less effort in sustained attention.
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    Oct 26 2011: I think it is a normal phenomenon that sustained attention to something ingrains it to memory. Does the mind have to be 'mindful' as such, in order for that to occur?

    I guess the mindfulness aspect in such a process would reduce negativity.

    Also, given that children's minds are naturally full of creative, free-thinking, often fragmented thoughts, do you think that something as prescriptive as mindfulness techniques would be too restrictive for them?

    Please define "optimal performance". By that, do you mean operating optimally within a standard curriculum, or optimally as an autonomous individual? The reason I ask is because two are often incompatible, and the imposition of standardisation in any form (especially on children), smothers individuality and creativity.