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Master of Arts




Fenesi, Barbara


Mindfulness Meditation (MM) is receiving increased empirical support as a method for addressing ADHD symptomology. Research shows that MM interventions lasting weeks or months promote key aspects of cognitive and psycho-emotional functioning in youth with ADHD. Using a pre-post within-subjects design, we sought to determine whether a single MM session supports neurocognitive and/or psycho-emotional functioning in youth with ADHD. Sixteen participants aged 10-14 completed measures of executive and psycho-emotional functioning before/after a 10-minute MM session and silent reading control. Functional neuroimaging assessed whether MM supported changes in prefrontal cortex (PFC) activation during cognitive tasks. We found that a single MM session supported inhibitory control and working memory. Improved inhibitory control also corresponded with a significant increase in PFC activity following MM. This study is the first to demonstrate improvements in key executive functions in youth with ADHD after a single MM session. Limitations, implications and future directions are discussed.

Summary for Lay Audience

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in youth, and is associated with marked academic, social, and lifestyle deficits. Stimulant medications are usually the primary method of addressing the inattention and/or hyperactive symptoms brought on by ADHD. Although often beneficial, stimulants can elicit troubling side-effects, and do not address psychological difficulties young people with ADHD often face. Mindfulness Meditation (MM), an ancient practice that has recently proliferated in Western Culture, is now being researched as a possible treatment to supplement or replace existing ADHD interventions. Previous research has shown that children with ADHD benefit from long-term MM programs; however, there is little research that addresses how brief MM sessions impact young people. This study aimed to determine whether a single MM session affected thinking (cognition), feeling (psycho-emotion) and brain activity in young people with ADHD. Sixteen children aged 10-14 with ADHD completed tests to measure these factors. Participants were assessed before and after a 10-minute guided MM delivered through an evidence-based meditation app. They wore a neuroimaging device while completing cognitive measures so we could gauge whether their prefrontal cortex—a brain region that is often irregular in ADHD populations—was affected. We also had participants silently read for 10-minutes instead of meditating on another day, so we could attribute any potential results to the effects of MM. We found that inhibitory control and working memory—two of the main cognitive deficits associated with ADHD—were improved following the single MM session. We also found that increased activity in the prefrontal cortex co-occurred with improvements in inhibitory control, suggesting that the improvements following MM may be partially attributable to a change in prefrontal cortex activity. MM, where individuals must stay still and focused for an extended time, is often challenging for individuals with ADHD. Our results are important because we showed that people can receive important benefits without partaking in prolonged practices. Brief MMs are also inexpensive and easy to access, and thus may be more feasible to engage with than expensive and longer interventions.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.