Project Title

Identifying the Role of Mind Wandering in Stress Related Changes in Executive Attention and Inflammation

Principal Investigator/Project Director

Jonathan Banks

Colleges / Centers

Halmos College of Arts and Sciences

Funder

National Science Foundation

Start Date

9-2022

Abstract

Our goal is to create a model of the mechanisms involved in the relationship between executive functioning, mind wandering, and immunological response. The objective is to 1) examine the role of negatively valenced mind wandering as a mediator for the relationship between executive functioning working memory and attentional control-and changes in inflammation during a period of stress, and 2) examine the role of dispositional mindfulness on executive functioning and inflammatory response during a period of stress. Our long-term goal is to understand the mechanisms involved in the relationship between executive functioning and inflammation and determine if mindfulness alters this relationship. Stress has a strong negative effect on physical health and a variety of cognitive functions. Mind wandering may be a mechanism by which psychological stress impairs working memory. Rumination has been linked to changes in inflammation and the relationship between these two factors suggests a path by which stress may alter both functions. Mindfulness appears to improve working memory and sustained attention, reduce mind wandering, and alter inflammation. However, the mechanisms for these improvements remain unclear. The relationship between the cognitive and the physiological effects of mind wandering and mindfulness have not been identified. To address this uncertainty, we will 1) examine the impact of psychological stress on working memory, attentional control, mind wandering, and measures of inflammation, 2) examine the relationship between the cognitive and immunological effects to determine if the mechanisms that may be responsible for cognitive effects are also related to the inflammatory response, and 3) examine the impact of a mindfulness on working memory, attentional control, mind wandering, and measures of inflammation following a stressor.

Aims. The goal of our study will be accomplished through testing our two specific aims, which will test the impact of stress on cognitive functions and measures of immunological functioning and to examine a possible mechanism behind both effects and factors that may alter these effects.

Specific Aim 1: Demonstrate that working memory and attentional control are related to inflammation during periods of stress. Hypothesis 1: Changes in cognitive function will be related to the inflammatory response and mind wandering rates. Hypothesis 2a: Negatively valenced mind wandering rates will mediate the impact of stress on changes in working memory and attentional control. Hypothesis 2a: Negatively valenced mind wandering rates will mediate the impact of stress on changes in cortisol levels and inflammation.

Specific Aim 2: Identify the role of dispositional mindfulness on stress related changes in working memory, attentional control, and inflammation. Hypothesis 1: Changes in cognitive functions and inflammatory response will be predicted by dispositional mindfulness and baseline working memory and attentional control. Hypothesis 2: Negatively valenced mind wandering rates will mediate the impact of both dispositional mindfulness and baseline working memory and attentional control on stress related changes in working memory and attentional control, cortisol levels, and inflammation.

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