In social contexts, the dynamic nature of others’ emotions places unique demands on attention and emotion regulation. Mindfulness, characterized by heightened and receptive moment-to-moment attending, may be well-suited to meet these demands. In particular, mindfulness may support more effective cognitive control in social situations via efficient deployment of top-down attention. To test this, a randomized controlled study examined effects of mindfulness training (MT) on behavioral and neural (event-related potentials [ERPs]) responses during an emotional go/no-go task that tested cognitive control in the context of emotional facial expressions that tend to elicit approach or avoidance behavior. Participants (N = 66) were randomly assigned to four brief (20 min) MT sessions or to structurally equivalent book learning control sessions. Relative to the control group, MT led to improved discrimination of facial expressions, as indexed by d-prime, as well as more efficient cognitive control, as indexed by response time and accuracy, and particularly for those evidencing poorer discrimination and cognitive control at baseline. MT also produced better conflict monitoring of behavioral goal-prepotent response tendencies, as indexed by larger No-Go N200 ERP amplitudes, and particularly so for those with smaller No-Go amplitude at baseline. Overall, findings are consistent with MT’s potential to enhance deployment of early top-down attention to better meet the unique cognitive and emotional demands of socioemotional contexts, particularly for those with greater opportunity for change. Findings also suggest that early top-down attention deployment could be a cognitive mechanism correspondent to the present-oriented attention commonly used to explain regulatory benefits of mindfulness more broadly.
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