Cognitive control — delay of gratification, impulse management, emotional self-regulation or self-control, the suppression of irrelevant thoughts, and paying attention or learning readiness — predicts success both in school and in work life:
Cognitive control increases from about 4 to 12 years old, then plateaus, said Betty J. Casey, director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Teenagers find it difficult to suppress their impulses, as any parent knows.
But impulsivity peaks around age 16, Dr. Casey noted, and in their 20s most people achieve adult levels of cognitive control. Among healthy adults, it begins to wane noticeably in the 70s or 80s, often manifesting as an inability to remember names or words, because of distractions that the mind once would have suppressed.
Bolstering this mental ability, specialists are now suggesting, might be particularly helpful in treating A.D.H.D. and A.D.D.
To do so, researchers are testing mindfulness: teaching people to monitor their thoughts and feelings without judgments or other reactivity. Rather than simply being carried away from a chosen focus, they notice that their attention has wandered, and renew their concentration.
According to a recent report in Clinical Neurophysiology, adults with A.D.D. were shown to benefit from mindfulness training combined with cognitive therapy; their improvements in mental performance were comparable to those achieved by subjects taking medications.