Mindfulness is often described as a process consisting of two components: present-moment attentional focus coupled with non-reactive monitoring of one’s ongoing experience (Bishop et al., 2004). Despite its origins as a way of cultivating clarity of thought, among the collection of studies on mindfulness conducted in recent years few studies have been concerned with the link between mindfulness and thinking skills in typically developing individuals. Assessments that attempt to capture the thinking skills of people in real-world situations can be found in the body of literature focused on critical thinking (CT; Butler, 2012; Ku, 2009). CT is recognised as an important higher-order cognitive process which involves the ability to analyse and evaluate evidence and arguments without bias from experience and prior knowledge. The application of CT requires a non-automatic response to a problem situation in order to avoid heuristic and biased thinking (West, Toplak, & Stanovich, 2008). Such non-automatic, critical and reflective responses are generally regarded as involving deliberative processes, referred to as Type 2 processes by Dual-Processing theorists (Evans & Stanovich, 2013) and require the engagement of executive functioning i.e. inhibiting, updating, and switching between representations in working memory. While an emerging body of theoretical and empirical work has linked mindfulness with enhanced executive functioning (Chambers, Lo, & Allen, 2007; Josefsson & Broberg, 2011; Tang, Yang, Leve, & Harold, 2012; Teper & Inzlicht, 2013), little is known about the relationship between executive functioning and critical thinking (Sanz de Acedo Lizarraga, Sanz de Acedo Baquedano, & Villanueva, 2012). Furthermore, though mindfulness has been shown to facilitate certain types of higher-order cognition, including insight problem-solving (Ostafin & Kassman, 2012; Wen, Butler, & Koutstaal, 2013), moral reasoning and ethical decision-making (Cottone & Javier, 2007; Ruedy & Schweitzer, 2011; Shapiro, Jazaieri, & Goldin, 2012), the relationship between mindfulness and critical thinking has not been empirically investigated.
In light of these identified gaps in the literature and building on two previous studies carried out as part of the principal applicant’s PhD which suggested links between trait and state mindfulness, executive functioning and critical thinking, the current project seeks to investigate the relationship between regular mindfulness practice, executive functioning, and critical thinking skills and dispositions in the context of a randomized-controlled intervention delivered online using the Headspace app.