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The great variety of meditation techniques found in different contemplative traditions presents a challenge when attempting to create taxonomies based on the constructs of contemporary cognitive sciences. In the current issue of Consciousness and Cognition, Travis and Shear add ‘automatic self-transcending’ to the previously proposed categories of ‘focused attention’ and ‘open monitoring’, and suggest characteristic EEG bands as the defining criteria for each of the three categories. Accuracy of current taxonomies and potential limitations of EEG measurements as classifying criteria are discussed.

This study examined the effects of meditation on mental imagery, evaluating Buddhist monks' reports concerning their extraordinary imagery skills. Practitioners of Buddhist meditation were divided into two groups according to their preferred meditation style: Deity Yoga (focused attention on an internal visual image) or Open Presence (evenly distributed attention, not directed to any particular object). Both groups of meditators completed computerized mental-imagery tasks before and after meditation. Their performance was compared with that of control groups, who either rested or performed other visuospatial tasks between testing sessions. The results indicate that all the groups performed at the same baseline level, but after meditation, Deity Yoga practitioners demonstrated a dramatic increase in performance on imagery tasks compared with the other groups. The results suggest that Deity meditation specifically trains one's capacity to access heightened visuospatial processing resources, rather than generally improving visuospatial imagery abilities.

Human experiences can be broadly divided into those that are external and related to interaction with the environment, and experiences that are internal and self-related. The cerebral cortex appears to be divided into two corresponding systems: an “extrinsic” system composed of brain areas that respond more to external stimuli and tasks and an “intrinsic” system composed of brain areas that respond less to external stimuli and tasks. These two broad brain systems seem to compete with each other, such that their activity levels over time is usually anti-correlated, even when subjects are “at rest” and not performing any task. This study used meditation as an experimental manipulation to test whether this competition (anti-correlation) can be modulated by cognitive strategy. Participants either fixated without meditation (fixation), or engaged in non-dual awareness (NDA) or focused attention (FA) meditations. We computed inter-area correlations (“functional connectivity”) between pairs of brain regions within each system, and between the entire extrinsic and intrinsic systems. Anti-correlation between extrinsic vs. intrinsic systems was stronger during FA meditation and weaker during NDA meditation in comparison to fixation (without mediation). However, correlation between areas within each system did not change across conditions. These results suggest that the anti-correlation found between extrinsic and intrinsic systems is not an immutable property of brain organization and that practicing different forms of meditation can modulate this gross functional organization in profoundly different ways.