Mindfulness & Psychoeducation: “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes”?

The Dodo bird quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland came to mind as I read the results of a recent study.  A randomised, controlled fMRI study of the effects of mindfulness and psychoeducation on the working memory of adults with ADHD found they both worked (for more on working memory, see What predicts ADHD symptom reduction over time?).  art-creative-flying-17679.jpg

After 8 wks, both interventions were found to increase working memory performance and to increase task-related right parietal lobe brain activity to a similar degree (study here).  Although I’d like to see the results for a third group who received neither intervention (to rule out any placebo effect), the good news is that, under both conditions, working memory increased.  What would be interesting to see next is what happens when we combine mindfulness and psychoeducation.

What predicts ADHD symptom reduction over time?

In school-age children with ADHD, “visual spatial working memory maintenance” improvement predicts symptom improvement.  See the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) study here.


Let’s unpack this.

“Visual spatial working memory maintenance” is about maintaining mental representations of the arrangement of what you’ve just seen as the next sights show up.

It’s what you have to do when you drive.  You have to remember the positions of other cars and cyclists as you also attend to traffic lights and road signs.  Imagine you come to a light where you want to turn right.  To do this without an accident, you need to maintain the representation of the cyclist who was riding on your right side seconds before.

Air traffic controllers and pilots require especially good visual spatial working memory maintenance (for a brief, clear description of visual working memory from the University of Michigan, go here).

Now, hold on to this idea as we look at the OHSU study.

What the OHSU researchers found is that the children of their study who showed some ADHD symptom “recovery” or “remission” were the ones whose visual working memory maintenance improved as they developed.

It raises interesting questions, including whether to focus attention on developing this cognitive ability to reduce ADHD symptoms and whether a third factor contributes to both visual working memory maintenance improvement and ADHD symptom reduction.  Of note, the researchers examined how two other cognitive processes changed over time.  These processes were response inhibition (self-restraint, essentially) and delayed reward discounting (depreciating the value of a non-immediate reward).  Their changes were unrelated to symptom reduction.


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