November 15, 2010

Mental Training Through Meditation Enhances Attentional Stability

A. Lutz, H. Slagter, et al.
Article in Journal of Neuroscience

Abstract
The capacity to stabilize the content of attention over timevaries among individuals, and its impairment is a hallmark ofseveral mental illnesses. Impairments in sustained attentionin patients with attention disorders have been associated withincreased trial-to-trial variability in reaction time and event-relatedpotential deficits during attention tasks. At present, it isunclear whether the ability to sustain attention and its underlyingbrain circuitry are transformable through training. Here, weshow, with dichotic listening task performance and electroencephalography,that training attention, as cultivated by meditation, can improvethe ability to sustain attention. Three months of intensivemeditation training reduced variability in attentional processingof target tones, as indicated by both enhanced theta-band phaseconsistency of oscillatory neural responses over anterior brainareas and reduced reaction time variability. Furthermore, thoseindividuals who showed the greatest increase in neural responseconsistency showed the largest decrease in behavioral responsevariability. Notably, we also observed reduced variability inneural processing, in particular in low-frequency bands, regardlessof whether the deviant tone was attended or unattended. Focusedattention meditation may thus affect both distracter and targetprocessing, perhaps by enhancing entrainment of neuronal oscillationsto sensory input rhythms, a mechanism important for controllingthe content of attention. These novel findings highlight themechanisms underlying focused attention meditation and supportthe notion that mental training can significantly affect attentionand brain function.

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