Dr. Daniel Kopala-Sibley
University of Calgary
About the researcher
Graduate Student at the University of Calgary
Once a practice only for highly trained monks to a therapeutic tool used among psychologists to commonplace in the school curricula. Mindfulness has made headlines and reached millions for its promising effects in reducing stress, improving focus, and promoting general wellbeing. A key component of mindfulness is present-centred attention of one’s experience in an accepting, curious and open-minded nature. Thus, mindfulness involves self-regulation of attention and may influence working memory, the brain’s ability to manipulate and maintain information to perform a goal. As today’s youth begin developing mindfulness strategies, neuroscientists like Jade become curious about its neural mechanisms. With Dr. Kopala-Sibely’s lab, Jade explores working memory as one potential factor that might explain the link between mindfulness, mental health and brain functioning.
Mindfulness research has primarily been carried out in adults, leaving a large gap in understanding how mindfulness impacts the developing brain. As mindfulness lessons become commonplace in school curricula, it is important to understand how mindfulness works in youth. The recruitment of brain regions involved in working memory may answer this question. In turn, this would suggest mindfulness could improve student engagement in the classroom (through freeing up space in working memory) and help promote resilient youth by inhibiting emotional interference. Using brain scans, we can directly test how individual differences in mindfulness correlate to brain activity during a working memory task and relate this varying level of mental health symptoms experienced by youth.
This study is a part of a larger initiative to determine strategies to promote resilience from anxiety and depression in adolescence. Participants are asked to come back in 18 months for another brain scan to see if their mindfulness practice has led to changes in their brain, improved working memory and reduced mental health symptoms. After completing this phase of the project, Jade plans to pursue a career as a registered psychologist to bring this neuroCAM treatment out of the lab and into the hands of people who need it.
Kopala-Sibley, Daniel & Stein, Jade & Bray, Signe & McGirr, Alexander. (2021). Integrating dynamic interactionism into the brain–stress–psychopathology relationship.. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne. 62. 181-194. 10.1037/cap0000282.
Stein, Jade & Bray, Signe & Macmaster, Frank & Tomfohr, Lianne & Kopala-Sibley, Daniel. (2022). Adolescents with High Dispositional Mindfulness Show Altered Right Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex Activity During a Working Memory Task. Mindfulness. 13. 1-13. 10.1007/s12671-021-01785-4.