I pass on the highlights statement from a fascinating opinion piece by Tang et al. (motivated readers can obtain a copy of the text from me).
A long-held belief in cognitive science is that training attention and self-control must recruit effort. Therefore, various effortful training programs such as attention or working memory training have been developed to improve attention and self-control (or executive function). However, effortful training has limited far-transfer effects. A growing literature suggests a new way of effortless training for attention and self-control. Effortless training – such as nature exposure, flow experience, and effortless practices – has shown promising effects on improving attention and self-control.
Effortful training requires cognitive control supported by the frontoparietal network to sustain mental effort over the course of training. Effortless training engages autonomic control with less effort, and is supported by the anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, striatum, and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
For the past 50 years, cognitive scientists have assumed that training attention and self-control must be effortful. However, growing evidence suggests promising effects of effortless training approaches such as nature exposure, flow experience, and effortless practice on attention and self-control. This opinion article focuses on effortless training of attention and self-control. We begin by introducing our definitions of effortful and effortless training and reviewing the growing literature on these two different forms of training. We then discuss the similarities and differences in their respective behavioral outcomes and neural correlates. Finally, we propose a putative neural mechanism of effortless training. We conclude by highlighting promising directions for research, development, and application of effortless training.
Figure Legend: Core brain regions and their functions during effortless training.
Three colored areas represent the anterior cingulate cortex–posterior cingulate cortex (ACC–PCC)–striatum (APS) and their corresponding functions during training. The broken line arrows indicate that these regions actively communicate with each other during effortless training.