Mental Training Enhances Attentional Stability: Neural and Behavioral Evidence

Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53705, USA.
The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 6.34). 10/2009; 29(42):13418-27. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1614-09.2009
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The capacity to stabilize the content of attention over time varies among individuals, and its impairment is a hallmark of several mental illnesses. Impairments in sustained attention in patients with attention disorders have been associated with increased trial-to-trial variability in reaction time and event-related potential deficits during attention tasks. At present, it is unclear whether the ability to sustain attention and its underlying brain circuitry are transformable through training. Here, we show, with dichotic listening task performance and electroencephalography, that training attention, as cultivated by meditation, can improve the ability to sustain attention. Three months of intensive meditation training reduced variability in attentional processing of target tones, as indicated by both enhanced theta-band phase consistency of oscillatory neural responses over anterior brain areas and reduced reaction time variability. Furthermore, those individuals who showed the greatest increase in neural response consistency showed the largest decrease in behavioral response variability. Notably, we also observed reduced variability in neural processing, in particular in low-frequency bands, regardless of whether the deviant tone was attended or unattended. Focused attention meditation may thus affect both distracter and target processing, perhaps by enhancing entrainment of neuronal oscillations to sensory input rhythms, a mechanism important for controlling the content of attention. These novel findings highlight the mechanisms underlying focused attention meditation and support the notion that mental training can significantly affect attention and brain function.

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Available from: Heleen Slagter, Sep 27, 2015
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    • "Evidence from behavioral studies has provided support for potential applications of meditation. In particular, a 3-month meditation retreat has been found to be associated with decreased variability in attentional processing of target tones, suggesting improved sustained attention (Lutz et al., 2009b). Also, in a 10-day program in mindfulness meditation, individuals showed decreased reaction time on an internal switching task and better performance in the Digit Span Backward subscale, suggesting a greater capacity for sustained attention, working memory, and executive function (Chambers et al., 2008). "
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    ABSTRACT: Over the past two decades, there has been a growing interest in the use of meditation to improve cognitive performance, emotional balance, and well-being. As a consequence, research into the psychological effects and neural mechanisms of meditation has been accumulating. Whether and how meditation affects decision making is not yet clear. Here, we review evidence from behavioral and neuroimaging studies and summarize the effects of meditation on social and non-social economic decision making. Research suggests that meditation modulates brain activities associated with cognitive control, emotion regulation and empathy, and leads to improved non-social and social decision making. Accordingly, we propose an integrative model in which cognitive control, emotional regulation, and empathic concern mediate the effects of meditation on decision making. This model provides insights into the mechanisms by which meditation affects the decision making process. More evidence is needed to test our explanatory model and to explore the function of specific brain areas and their interactive effects on decision making during meditation training.
    Frontiers in Psychology 08/2015; 6:1059. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01059 · 2.80 Impact Factor
    • "While multiple studies have shown that meditation practice influences perception in attentional paradigms, the dependent measure has mostly been accuracy (Lutz et al. 2009; Slagter et al. 2007). Very few studies have investigated whether meditation practice leads to changes in perceptual awareness (Carter et al. 2005). "
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    ABSTRACT: While many studies have shown that meditation enhances attentional processing, very few studies have investigated the effect of enhanced attentional processing on visual awareness. We investigate the attentional effects on visual awareness in focused attention meditators using a task that manipulates scope of attention using hierarchical letter stimuli (local and global processing) and single letter stimuli of varying size (small and large). In addition, working memory load was manipulated using a 0-back and 2-back task. Data were collected from Sahaj Samadhi Meditators and an age-matched control group of non-meditators. Visual awareness was tapped using negative color afterimages by measuring the duration and more importantly the clarity and color of afterimages using a rating scale. The afterimage durations were significantly longer for Sahaj Samadhi meditators compared to non-meditators. In addition, the afterimages were sharper for meditators compared to non-meditators suggesting that better attentional focusing associated with meditators might lead to phenomenal changes in visual awareness. Scope of attention influenced not only afterimage durations but also clarity indicating that changes in scope also influence aspects of visual awareness. The results indicate meditation training not only modifies attentional processes but also results in changes in conscious visual perception.
    Mindfulness 07/2015; DOI:10.1007/s12671-015-0428-1 · 3.69 Impact Factor
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    • "binaural PPI in healthy people from the general population, as well as in experienced mindfulness practitioners who are considered to have a stronger information processing capacity (Slagter et al., 2007) and be more efficient than the general population in allocating attentional and information processing resources (Lutz et al., 2009; Slagter, Lutz, Greischar, Nieuwenhuis, & Davidson, 2009; van den Hurk, Giommi, Gielen, Speckens, & Barendregt, 2010). It was hypothesized that attention manipulation will result in reduced monaural PPI in healthy meditation-naïve people, assuming that attentional manipulations would leave fewer resources for detection and processing of prepulses; and this would in turn decrease PPI. "
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    ABSTRACT: We examined whether monaural prepulses produce more prepulse inhibition (PPI) because they might be more attention capturing (unambiguous to locate) than binaural prepulses. Monaural and binaural PPI was tested under normal and verbal and visuospatial attention manipulation conditions in 55 healthy men, including 29 meditators. Attention manipulations abolished monaural PPI superiority, similarly in meditators and meditation-naïve individuals, and this was most strongly evident for right ear PPI under visuospatial attention manipulation. Meditators performed better than meditation-naïve individuals on attention tasks (verbal: more targets detected; visuospatial: faster reaction time). Spatial attention processes contribute to monaural PPI, particularly with the right ear. Better attentional performance, with similar attentional modulation of PPI, may indicate a stronger attentional capacity in meditators, relative to meditation-naïve individuals. © 2014 The Authors. Psychophysiology published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Society for Psychophysiological Research.
    Psychophysiology 12/2014; 52(5). DOI:10.1111/psyp.12391 · 2.99 Impact Factor
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