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2008-

I have developed a mind fitness training program to use with service-members before their deployment to combat, to improve their operational performance and reduce the likelihood of psychological injury afterwards. Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT, pronounced M-fit) is specifically designed for individuals operating in high stress environments. It blends (1) mindfulness skills training with (2) stress resilience skills training and (3) concrete applications for the operational environment. I am the founder of the Mind Fitness Training Institute, a non-profit organization that offers this training more broadly to organizations in high stress contexts. I have also been collaborating with neuroscientists to measure the effectiveness of this training, including Dr. Amishi P. Jha at the University of Miami and Dr. Chris Johnson at the Naval Health Research Center and University of California, San-Diego. In 2008, Jha and I conducted a pilot study of the training with a cohort of Marines before their deployment to Iraq. Before and after the training, the Marines participated in a battery of behavioral tasks to measure their cognitive capabilities. We also gathered data from another pre-deployment Marine detachment that did not receive MMF, as a control group. The results of the pilot study suggest that MMFT may protect against cognitive degradation in high-stress contexts. Marines who practiced more MMFT exercises outside of class maintained or improved their baseline working memory capacity and attention skills over time. In contrast, those who did not practice as much (and the control group) saw cognitive degradations. In addition, despite the real increase in stressors during the pre-deployment period, MMFT appeared to limit the effects of stress and moderate emotional experience (with more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions). Jha and I are now collaborating on a multi-year project with pre-deployment US Army soldiers. This study is a randomized control trial that includes two control groups. One control group received no training and one control group received a comparable resilience training, but differing in its mechanism for building resilience. We are also testing four different versions of MMFT, to see which components are most effective at building resilience and enhancing performance. The study includes neurocognitive testing of attention and memory using EEG-recording and computer-based tests, self-report measures of stress and resilience, and physiological measures of stress. Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division were tested before and after they received training in summer 2010; they were tested again in December 2010 to measure enduring effects of the training. This study, funded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command, will run from 2009-2013. I am about to begin another project, with Johnson, to examine MMFT’s ability to complement the Marine Corps’ existing pre-deployment stress inoculation training at Camp Pendleton, California. This study will also explicitly examine the effects of leader exposure to MMFT and concomitant changes in individual and unit effectiveness. This project will include neurocognitive behavioral testing; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); blood biomarkers; a variety of self-report measures; and objective measures of small group performance during squad counterinsurgency drills. This study, funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, will run from 2011-2013.

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