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Into the awakened land: Attention, arousal and the mindful eye

Hill, Jason 2022. Into the awakened land: Attention, arousal and the mindful eye. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Some of the most obvious and important realities are often the hardest to see. Although human beings harbour unprecedented sophistication in relation to their capacity for adaptive environmental negotiation, they also become so easily untethered from the simple act of being. The ancients understood the value of this mode, whereby early Buddhist dharma highlights the importance of being mindful towards the present moment, from a stance of wakefulness and alertness. Such capacities likely encompass an arousing quality, which may be associated with distinct attentional features directly accessible through a range of neurocognitive scientific methods. However, despite the utility and availability of such techniques, the wakeful and arousing qualities of mindfulness remain largely unexplored. In the present thesis, my primary aim was to examine mindfulness through the lens of adaptive gain theory (AGT), which positions the locus-coeruleus noradrenaline system (LC-NA) as a central arousal-based modulator of human wakefulness and attention during the adaptive negotiation of environmental information. Specifically, I converged the use of pupillometry – a reliable index of LC-NA activity – with a range of attentional stimuli to examine mindfulness as an AGT-predicted mode of elevated LC-NA arousal and augmented attention. Across seven experiments harnessing concurrent examinations of attentional processes and pupillary indices of noradrenergic activity, I demonstrated that mindfulness was associated with increased subjective indices of attentiveness and awareness, enhanced capacities for exploratory attention and associated shifts into tonic LC-NA arousal states. However, there were limited mindfulness-induced changes to performance-based assessments of alerting, orienting and executive network efficiency or increased LC-NA activation indicative of elevated arousal. Taken together, these results serve to embellish our current understanding of mindfulness as a capacity for wakefulness, awareness and enhanced attentional negotiation of environmental demands. That is, the “awakening” typically associated with mindfulness and meditation-related capacities may be more than mere metaphor, inviting future endeavour to reveal yet more information about the wakeful properties of the contemplative mind.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 8 June 2022
Last Modified: 04 Jan 2023 02:22

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