Component Processes of Executive Function—Mindfulness, Self-control, and Working Memory—and Their Relationships with Mental and Behavioral Health

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Community and Global Health (CGU)

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Community Health | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental and Social Health | Public Health


We examined the interrelationships between higher-order cognitive functions—mindfulness, self-control, and working memory—that appear to be component processes that underlie executive function (EF) and their association with indicators of mental and behavioral health. Data were collected from first-year medical students attending a large private university in California (N = 31) via a computer-based questionnaire which was administered via email hyperlink. Results indicate that self-control schedule (SCS) scores were significantly correlated with the negative dimension of positive and negative affect schedule scores (r = −0.59, p < 0.05), psychological well-being scale scores (r = 0.46, p < 0.05), and mindful attention awareness scale (MAAS) scores (r = 0.35, p ≤ 0.10). The planful behavior dimension of the SCS was correlated with MAAS scores (r = 0.38, p < 0.10), automated operation span task scores (r = 0.51, p < 0.05), and total SCS scores (r = 0.72, p < 0.01). Large and significant inverse correlations were found between current meditation practice and alcohol use (r = −0.56, p < 0.05) and AUDIT scores (r = −0.48, p < 0.05). Findings from this pilot study suggest that an overlap exists between some component processes of EF; however, the majority of variance in the components is not shared. Moreover, these higher-order cognitive processes appear to have protective relationships with substance use and are positively associated with self-reported meditation practice.

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