Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Attention training and attention state training

Tang and Posner (PDF here) examine two different approaches that have been shown to improve attention and self-regulation: computer based exercises in children and adults (attention training, AT); and exposure to nature, mindfulness and integrative body-mind training (IBMT, or attention state training, AST). Here is their summary of the characteristics of these two approaches:

• Trains executive attention networks
• Requires directed attention and effortful control
• Targets non-autonomic control systems
• Produces mental fatigue easily
• Training transfers to other cognitive abilities

• Produces changes of body-mind state
• Requires effortful control (early stage) and effortless exercise (later)
• Involves the autonomic system
• Aims at achieving a relaxed and balanced state
• Training transfers to cognition, emotion and social behaviors

Activation of the anterior cingulate cortex appears to be central with both approaches, with AT involving involving changes in anterior cingulate and lateral prefrontal areas, perhaps mainly through increased connectivity between the two. AST involves increased interaction between anterior cingulate cortex and the autonomic nervous system. Increase in activity in the ACC in AST is similar to what is found in AT during task performance and could account for the improved executive attention with both methods.

It is worth noting that both aerobic exercise (A.F. Kramer and K.I. Erickson, Capitalizing on cortical plasticity: influence of physical activity on cognition and brain function, Trends Cogn. Sci. 11 (2007), pp. 342–348) and music education (E.G. Schellenberg, Music and cognitive abilities, Psychol. Sci. 14 (2004), pp. 317–320.) have also been shown to enhance cognitive processes


  1. What are examples of AST? How can one study and practise it on a regular basis?

  2. An example of AST training would be the n-back exercises I have mentioned in several blog posts.