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The present investigation examined the contributions of specific attentional networks to long-term trait effects of meditation. It was hypothesized that meditation could improve the efficiency of executive processing (inhibits prepotent/incorrect responses) or orientational processing (orients to specific objects in the attentional field). Participants (50 meditators and 10 controls) were given the Stroop (measures executive attention) and Global-Local Letters (measures orientational attention) tasks. Results showed that meditation experience was associated with reduced interference on the Stroop task (p < 0.03), in contrast with a lack of effect on interference in the Global-Local Letters task. This suggests that meditation produces long-term increases in the efficiency of the executive attentional network (anterior cingulate/prefrontal cortex) but no effect on the orientation network (parietal systems). The amount of time participants spent meditating each day, rather than the total number of hours of meditative practice over their lifetime, was negatively correlated with interference on the Stroop task (r = −0.31, p < 0.005).

This study investigated the link between meditation, self-reported mindfulness and cognitive flexibility as well as other attentional functions. It compared a group of meditators experienced in mindfulness meditation with a meditation-naïve control group on measures of Stroop interference and the “d2-concentration and endurance test”. Overall the results suggest that attentional performance and cognitive flexibility are positively related to meditation practice and levels of mindfulness. Meditators performed significantly better than non-meditators on all measures of attention. Furthermore, self-reported mindfulness was higher in meditators than non-meditators and correlations with all attention measures were of moderate to high strength. This pattern of results suggests that mindfulness is intimately linked to improvements of attentional functions and cognitive flexibility. The relevance of these findings for mental balance and well-being are discussed.

Meditation is a mental training, which involves attention and the ability to maintain focus on a particular object. In this study we have applied a specific attentional task to simply measure the performance of the participants with different levels of meditation experience, rather than evaluating meditation practice per se or task performance during meditation. Our objective was to evaluate the performance of regular meditators and non-meditators during an fMRI adapted Stroop Word-Colour Task (SWCT), which requires attention and impulse control, using a block design paradigm. We selected 20 right-handed regular meditators and 19 non-meditators matched for age, years of education and gender. Participants had to choose the colour (red, blue or green) of single words presented visually in three conditions: congruent, neutral and incongruent. Non-meditators showed greater activity than meditators in the right medial frontal, middle temporal, precentral and postcentral gyri and the lentiform nucleus during the incongruent conditions. No regions were more activated in meditators relative to non-meditators in the same comparison. Non-meditators showed an increased pattern of brain activation relative to regular meditators under the same behavioural performance level. This suggests that meditation training improves efficiency, possibly via improved sustained attention and impulse control.

The scientific interest in meditation and mindfulness practice has recently seen an unprecedented surge. After an initial phase of presenting beneficial effects of mindfulness practice in various domains, research is now seeking to unravel the underlying psychological and neurophysiological mechanisms. Advances in understanding these processes are required for improving and fine-tuning mindfulness-based interventions that target specific conditions such as eating disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. This review presents a theoretical framework that emphasizes the central role of attentional control mechanisms in the development of mindfulness skills. It discusses the phenomenological level of experience during meditation, the different attentional functions that are involved, and relates these to the brain networks that subserve these functions. On the basis of currently available empirical evidence specific processes as to how attention exerts its positive influence are considered and it is concluded that meditation practice appears to positively impact attentional functions by improving resource allocation processes. As a result, attentional resources are allocated more fully during early processing phases which subsequently enhance further processing. Neural changes resulting from a pure form of mindfulness practice that is central to most mindfulness programs are considered from the perspective that they constitute a useful reference point for future research. Furthermore, possible interrelations between the improvement of attentional control and emotion regulation skills are discussed.