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Many recent behavioral and neuroscientific studies have revealed the importance of investigating meditation states and traits to achieve an increased understanding of cognitive and affective neuroplasticity, attention and self-awareness, as well as for their increasingly recognized clinical relevance. The investigation of states and traits related to meditation has especially pronounced implications for the neuroscience of attention, consciousness, self-awareness, empathy and theory of mind. In this article we present the main features of meditation-based mental training and characterize the current scientific approach to meditation states and traits with special reference to attention and consciousness, in light of the articles contributed to this issue.

We investigate if concentrative meditation training (CMT) offered during adolescent development benefits subsystems of attention using a quasi-experimental design. Attentional alerting, orienting, and conflict monitoring were examined using the Attention Network Test (ANT) in 13-15 year old children who received CMT as part of their school curriculum (CMT group: N = 79) vs. those who received no such training (control group: N = 76). Alerting and conflict monitoring, but not orienting, differed between the CMT and control group. Only conflict monitoring demonstrated age-related improvements, with smaller conflict effect scores in older vs. younger participants. The influence of CMT on this system was similar to the influence of developmental maturity, with smaller conflict effects in the CMT vs. control group. To examine if CMT might also bolster conflict-triggered upregulation of attentional control, conflict effects were evaluated as a function of previous trial conflict demands (high conflict vs. low conflict). Smaller current-trial conflict effects were observed when previous conflict was high vs. low, suggesting that similar to adults, when previous conflict was high (vs. low) children in this age-range proactively upregulated control so that subsequent trial performance was benefitted. The magnitude of conflict-triggered control upregulation was not bolstered by CMT but CMT did have an effect for current incongruent trials preceded by congruent trials. Thus, CMT's influence on attention may be tractable and specific; it may bolster attentional alerting, conflict monitoring and reactive control, but does not appear to improve orienting.
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Brain oscillatory activity is associated with different cognitive processes and plays a critical role in meditation. In this study, we investigated the temporal dynamics of oscillatory changes during Sahaj Samadhi meditation (a concentrative form of meditation that is part of Sudarshan Kriya yoga). EEG was recorded during Sudarshan Kriya yoga meditation for meditators and relaxation for controls. Spectral and coherence analysis was performed for the whole duration as well as specific blocks extracted from the initial, middle, and end portions of Sahaj Samadhi meditation or relaxation. The generation of distinct meditative states of consciousness was marked by distinct changes in spectral powers especially enhanced theta band activity during deep meditation in the frontal areas. Meditators also exhibited increased theta coherence compared to controls. The emergence of the slow frequency waves in the attention-related frontal regions provides strong support to the existing claims of frontal theta in producing meditative states along with trait effects in attentional processing. Interestingly, increased frontal theta activity was accompanied reduced activity (deactivation) in parietal–occipital areas signifying reduction in processing associated with self, space and, time.