Mindfulness meditation practice and executive functioning: Breaking down the benefit

Conscious Cogn. 2016 Feb:40:116-30. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2016.01.005. Epub 2016 Jan 16.


This paper focuses on evidence for mindfulness meditation-related benefits to executive functioning, processes important for much of human volitional behaviour. Miyake et al. (2000) have shown that executive functions can be fractionated into three distinct domains including inhibition, working memory updating, and mental set shifting. Considering these separable domains, it is important to determine whether the effects of mindfulness can generalize to all three sub-functions or are specific to certain domains. To address this, the current review applied Miyake et al.'s (2000) fractionated model of executive functioning to the mindfulness literature. Empirical studies assessing the benefits of mindfulness to measures tapping the inhibition, updating, and shifting components of executive functioning were examined. Results suggest a relatively specific as opposed to general benefit resulting from mindfulness, with consistent inhibitory improvement, but more variable advantages to the updating and shifting domains. Recommendations surrounding application of mindfulness practice and future research are discussed.

Keywords: Cognition; Executive function; Inhibition; Mindfulness meditation; Shifting; Updating.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Meditation*
  • Mindfulness*