OSR Journal of Student Research

Article Title

The impact of working memory and anxiety on sustained attention in mindfulness meditation


Stephen Ware


This study investigated the role of working memory and anxiety on sustaining attention in a breath counting task. The breath counting task is designed to capture attentional performance using key presses in a task similar to mindfulness meditation. Following Levinson et al. (2014), participants were instructed to press “b” for breaths one to eight, “n” for breath nine, and then to start again at breath one; they were also instructed to press "m" whenever they lost count. Following 15 minutes of breath counting, two probe questions were presented to measure mind-wandering during the task. There was a significant correlation between performance measures derived from “n” and “m” presses, which also correlated with both thought probes. The low working memory/low state anxiety group showed lower sustained attention in the breath counting task than the other groups. The results suggest that individual differences in executive function and anxiety may play a role in novices sustaining attention during breath counting meditation.

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