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Brief Meditation Trainings Improve Performance in the Emotional Attentional Blink

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Objectives To efficiently handle the continuous flow of information to which the attentional system is exposed, humans are equipped with filters like the attentional blink (i.e., a failure to detect a second target when it is presented between 200 and 500 ms after the first one). The aim of this study was to examine whether the practice of two standardized meditation programs (i.e., mindfulness and compassion) could modify the allocation of attentional resources towards emotional information.MethodsA sample of 90 participants (43 in the mindfulness group and 47 in the compassion group) performed a variant of the emotional attentional blink task using negative, positive, and neutral faces, before and after the 8-week meditation programs.ResultsBoth programs significantly decreased the standard AB effect (F(1.65, 145.58) = 39.79, p < .001, η2partial = .31) with only minor differences between them. Furthermore, the AB reduction after the programs varied according to the different emotional faces used (F(3.10, 272.83) = 4.44, p < .05, η2partial = .05).Conclusions Results suggest that standardized 8-week meditation programs may significantly change early stages of emotional stimuli processing while promoting a more balanced distribution of attentional resources towards emotional information.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
Brief Meditation Trainings Improve Performance in the Emotional
Attentional Blink
Pablo Roca
1,2
&Carmelo Vazquez
1,2
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020
Abstract
Objectives To efficiently handle the continuous flow of information to which the attentional system is exposed, humans are
equipped with filters likethe attentional blink (i.e.,a failure to detect a second target when it is presented between 200 and 500 ms
after the first one). The aim of this study was to examine whether the practice of two standardized meditation programs (i.e.,
mindfulness and compassion) could modify the allocation of attentional resources towards emotional information.
Methods A sample of 90 participants (43 in the mindfulness group and 47 in the compassion group) performed a variant of the
emotional attentional blink task using negative, positive, and neutral faces, before and after the 8-week meditation programs.
Results Both programs significantly decreased the standard AB effect (F
(1.65, 145.58)
=39.79,p<.001,η
2
partial
=.31)withonly
minor differences between them. Furthermore, the AB reduction after the programs varied according to the different emotional
faces used (F
(3.10, 272.83)
=4.44,p<.05,η
2
partial
=.05).
Conclusions Results suggest that standardized 8-week meditation programs may significantly change early stages of emotional
stimuli processing while promoting a more balanced distribution of attentional resources towards emotional information.
Keywords Mindfulness .Compassion .Attentional blink .Attention .Emotional processing
What would you think if someone told you that your atten-
tional system is functionally blindimmediately after pro-
cessing a stimulus? We all know that our eyes automatically
blink several times per minute, but it is less known that the
attentional system also blinks,suffering spontaneous
blackoutswhen it shifts its focus from one stimulus to an-
other. This attentional blackout is known as the attentional
blink (AB; Raymond et al. 1992) effect, which has been re-
peatedly found in studies investigating the temporal limita-
tions of attention. The AB effect is an attentional deficit
consisting of a reduction in the processing accuracy for a
second target (T2), when it is presented between 200 and
500 ms after a first target (T1).
Despite the fact that attentional resources are limited, the
AB does not capture an immutable bottleneck in human infor-
mation processing and it can be reduced through a variety of
attention manipulations (Olivers and Nieuwenhuis 2005). One
of the most empirically supported methods to enhance atten-
tion is the practice of meditation (Chiesa et al. 2011). The
seminal study of Slagter et al. (2007) found that, after a 3-
month meditation retreat, meditators exhibited a significant
reduction in the AB deficit compared to a control group.
These results suggested that the intensive practice of medita-
tion improved participantsallocation of attentional resources
between the first and the second targets, thus reducing the
propensity to get stuckon the first target.
Theoretical and empirical models of meditation emphasize
the central role of attentional control as the entry door for the
rest of the acting mechanisms (Malinowski 2013;Tangetal.
2015). Studies using different methodologies seem to indicate
that mindfulness-based programs (MBPs) increase the effi-
ciency of attentional functions by improving the resource al-
location flexibility (Malinowski 2013; Moore et al. 2012).
MBPs have also been found to be an effective treatment for
mood disorders (Kuyken et al. 2016), and it could be possible
that the benefits of these programs are mediated, at least
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01374-x) contains supplementary
material, which is available to authorized users.
*Carmelo Vazquez
cvazquez@ucm.es
1
School of Psychology, Complutense University of Madrid,
28223 Madrid, Spain
2
Nirakara Lab, Madrid, Spain
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01374-x
Published online: 2 May 2020
Mindfulness (2020) 11:1613–1622
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... Colzato et al. (2015) found that participants who completed a brief 17-min single session of OM training exhibited a lesser AB than those who completed a comparable FA training session; they attributed the effect to an alteration in top-down control and further suggested that mindfulness practice may have a specific impact on conflict-driven control adaptations. Roca and Vazquez (2020) showed that both traditional mindfulness meditation training and compassion meditation training (8-week programs) diminished the AB effect in an emotional AB paradigm. Based on their findings, they suggested that meditation training for as little as 8 weeks may alter early stages of emotional stimulus processing while promoting a more balanced distribution of attentional resources towards emotional information (Roca & Vazquez, 2020). ...
... Roca and Vazquez (2020) showed that both traditional mindfulness meditation training and compassion meditation training (8-week programs) diminished the AB effect in an emotional AB paradigm. Based on their findings, they suggested that meditation training for as little as 8 weeks may alter early stages of emotional stimulus processing while promoting a more balanced distribution of attentional resources towards emotional information (Roca & Vazquez, 2020). Wang et al. (2021) also compared the effect of 8-week mindfulness training on AB. Results showed that the mindfulness training group exhibited increases in FFMQ scores (total scores, observing, and non-reactivity) and POM scores, as well as improved accuracy in the AB task and a reduction in the lag-1 sparing effect. ...
... These results complement the results of previous studies showing that meditation experts have a smaller AB than controls (Slagter et al., 2007;van Vugt & Slagter, 2014), a pattern of findings that supports the notion that long-term meditation can affect the distribution of limited cognitive resources. Based on Roca and Vazquez (2020)'s findings, 8-week meditation training may alter early stages of emotional stimulus processing while promoting a more balanced distribution of attentional resources towards emotional information (Roca & Vazquez, 2020). Wang et al. (2021)'s study showed that the increases in T2 accuracy in the AB were correlated with improved non-reactivity (Wang et al., 2021). ...
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... Fabio and Towey (2018) also found that mindfulness experts had reduced ABs together with signs of enhanced parallel processing and a distribution of attention supportive of enhanced functionality. Roca and Vazquez (2020) showed that both traditional mindfulness meditation training and compassion meditation training (8-week programs) diminished the AB effect in an emotional AB paradigm. Based on their findings, they suggested that meditation training for as little as 8 weeks may alter early stages of emotional stimulus processing while promoting a more balanced distribution of attentional resources towards emotional information (Roca & Vazquez, 2020). ...
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... The present demonstration that an 8-week MT program improved AB accuracy is consistent with previous studies showing that mindfulness practice is associated with a reduced AB effect (Slagter et al., 2007;van Leeuwen et al., 2009;van Vugt & Slagter, 2014). This study provides new evidence showing that even relatively short-term MT can influence AB, as suggested by previous studies (Colzato et al., 2015;Roca & Vazquez, 2020). Colzato et al. (2015) demonstrated that 17-min OMM training reduced AB, and their data suggested that the effect was consequent to a more parallel processing mode in which top-down support and/or local competition are reduced. ...
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... As Fried (2015) has argued, sum scores on self-report measures (e.g., of depression) are too coarse-grained or insufficiently reliable to identify subtle differences in interventions, and in meditation in particular (Grossman, 2019). Thus, future research should use behavioral and biological measures to programmatically analyze differences between meditation types (Desbordes et al., 2012;Roca and Vazquez, 2020b), employing more sophisticated analysis (such as network analysis) to explore these differences (Roca et al., 2019). ...
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... A more comprehensive mechanistic approach of MBIs could be achieved in integrating these types of variables in network analysis as some authors have begun to do (e.g., Heeren and McNally 2016). Future analyses should include attentional performance as one of the nodes of the networks (Roca and Vazquez 2020). Finally, it is also important to interpret the present results with caution as network analysis methods are still under development in psychology. ...
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