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


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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    • "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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    Frontiers in Psychology 08/2015; 6:1059. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01059 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    • "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). However, these studies have not manipulated attention and also have not investigated different phenomenological properties of conscious visual content. Color afterimages provide us a nat"
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    • "A number of other treatments might also be viewed as hypnosis using model, or at least very close cousins. For example, some, but not all, meditation practices result in increases in theta power (Lutz et al., 2009). More often than not, people engage in meditation training for a specific reason or because they believe that meditation will result in specific benefits; that is, they have received suggestions (perhaps through reading, perhaps through discussions with the individual providing the training) regarding the potential benefits of meditation. "
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