Does mindfulness enhance critical thinking? Evidence for the mediating effects of executive functioning in the relationship between mindfulness and critical thinking
Hogan, Michael J.
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Noone, Chris, Bunting, Brendan, & Hogan, Michael J. (2016). Does Mindfulness Enhance Critical Thinking? Evidence for the Mediating Effects of Executive Functioning in the Relationship between Mindfulness and Critical Thinking. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(2043). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02043
Mindfulness originated in the Buddhist tradition as a way of cultivating clarity of thought. Despite the fact that this behavior is best captured using critical thinking (CT) assessments, no studies have examined the effects of mindfulness on CT or the mechanisms underlying any such possible relationship. Even so, mindfulness has been suggested as being beneficial for CT in higher education. CT is recognized as an important higher-order cognitive process which involves the ability to analyze and evaluate evidence and arguments. Such non-automatic, reflective responses generally require the engagement of executive functioning (EF) which includes updating, inhibition, and shifting of representations in working memory. Based on research showing that mindfulness enhances aspects of EF and certain higher-order cognitive processes, we hypothesized that individuals higher in facets of dispositional mindfulness would demonstrate greater CT performance, and that this relationship would be mediated by EF. Cross-sectional assessment of these constructs in a sample of 178 university students was achieved using the observing and non-reactivity sub-scales of the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire, a battery of EF tasks and the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment. Our hypotheses were tested by constructing a multiple meditation model which was analyzed using Structural Equation Modeling. Evidence was found for inhibition mediating the relationships between both observing and non-reactivity and CT in different ways. Indirect-only (or full) mediation was demonstrated for the relationship between observing, inhibition, and CT. Competitive mediation was demonstrated for the relationship between non-reactivity, inhibition, and CT. This suggests additional mediators of the relationship between non-reactivity and CT which are not accounted for in this model and have a negative effect on CT in addition to the positive effect mediated by inhibition. These findings are discussed in the context of the Default Interventionist Dual Process Theory of Higher-order Cognition and previous studies on mindfulness, self-regulation, EF, and higher-order cognition. In summary, dispositional mindfulness appears to facilitate CT performance and this effect is mediated by the inhibition component of EF. However, this relationship is not straightforward which suggests many possibilities for future research.