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.

Download full-text


Available from: Heleen Slagter
  • Source
    • "Latest clinical studies, for example, have largely focused on MM for the treatment of patients with depression, anxiety, stress, or pain, (Chiesa and Serretti, 2009 Hofmann et al., 2010; Keng et al., 2011; Cramer et al., 2012; Eberth and Sedlmeier, 2012; Mitchell et al., 2013; Goyal et al., 2014). Moreover, it has been shown that MM may contribute to improve cognitive performances such as attention, memory, and concentration (Jha et al., 2007; Tang et al., 2007; Lutz et al., 2009; MacLean et al., 2010; Greenberg et al., 2012; Mrazek et al., 2013). Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating how mindfulness and meditation affect physiological and biological body and brain properties such as telomere elongation, hemodynamics, and cerebral blood flow (Solberg et al., 2004; Khalsa et al., 2009; Newberg et al., 2010; Hoge et al., 2013; Jacobs et al., 2013). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Although research on the effects of mindfulness meditation (MM) is increasing, still very little has been done to address its influence on the white matter (WM) of the brain. We hypothesized that the practice of MM might affect the WM microstructure adjacent to five brain regions of interest associated with mindfulness. Diffusion tensor imaging was employed on samples of meditators and non-meditators (n = 64) in order to investigate the effects of MM on group difference and aging. Tract-Based Spatial Statistics was used to estimate the fractional anisotrophy of the WM connected to the thalamus, insula, amygdala, hippocampus, and anterior cingulate cortex. The subsequent generalized linear model analysis revealed group differences and a group-by-age interaction in all five selected regions. These data provide preliminary indications that the practice of MM might result in WM connectivity change and might provide evidence on its ability to help diminish age-related WM degeneration in key regions which participate in processes of mindfulness.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience
    • "Meditation has been generally categorized into two types: focused attention (FA) meditation, requiring voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object, and open monitoring (OM) meditation, which involves non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment (Lutz et al. 2009). Mindfulness is the core feature of OM meditation, which involves non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment (Lutz et al. 2009). Similar to most meditative techniques which lie somewhere on a continuum between the poles of these two general methods (Cahn and Polich 2006). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The scientific study of movement-related contemplative practices has proceeded without much attention to the range of psychological and phenomenological changes thought to occur during the practice. Quadrato Motor Training (QMT) is a specifically structured walking meditation, recently found to improve creativity and reflectivity, as well as neuroplasticity. This paper presents first-person reports related to QMT-induced experiences, derived from both practitioners of breathing meditation (BM) who practiced the QMT for 1 week (n=15) compared to 4 weeks of daily training (n=14) and control non-BM practitioners who practiced the QMT for 4 weeks of daily training (n=14). Following factor analysis, the reported experiences were classified into three categories: Attentional Effort, Mindfulness, and Altered States of Consciousness (ASC). Our analysis revealed significant group differences, with increased ASC and attentional effort experiences reported by the groups that practiced the QMT for 4 weeks, but not in the group that practiced it for only 1 day. We further build on the previous QMT-induced electrophysiological and cognitive changes and the meditation literature to posit the possible underlying mechanisms of QMT-induced ASC experiences, in order to suggest a novel interpretation of QMT that calls attention to its structural similarities with meditation. By providing and contextualizing these reports of QMT-induced experiences, scientists, clinicians, and meditators can gain a more informed view of the range of experiences that can be elicited by whole-body contemplative practices.
    No preview · Article · Dec 2015 · Mindfulness
  • Source
    • "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). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    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.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2015 · Frontiers in Psychology
Show more