Mindfulness Improves Allocation of Limited Brain Resources
A SCIENCE STORY
Research study showing that mindfulness training is associated with improving allocation of limited cognitive resources for better performance on attentional tasks.
Humans have limited cognitive resources for processing information
This limitation is revealed by the attentional blink paradigm -
A second target stimulus presented within 500 ms of first one in rapid sequence of distractors is often not detected.
Human brain is capable of plastic change in response to environmental stimulation.
Intensive training of external task, like computer games, can improve attention skills as reflected by enhanced performance on new cognitive tasks.
Meditation involves mental training of attention
Mental training of attention produces lasting changes in brain & cognitive function
There are cognitive & neural differences in attentional processing between expert meditators and novices
Can purely mental training of attentional skills benefit performance on novel tasks?
Can intensive meditation affect the distribution of limited attentional resources?
A longitudinal study investigating effects of 3 mo of intensive Vipassana meditation on the distribution of limited attentional resources.
Data collected from 17 participants at the beginning & end of a 3-mo meditation retreat during which they meditated for 10–12 h per day (practitioner group).
Control data collected from 23 participants interested in learning about meditation (novice group), who received a 1- h meditation class & asked to meditate for 20 min daily for 1 w prior to each session.
The Method (contd.)
In each session, participants performed an attentional-blink task in which they had to identify two targets embedded in a rapid stream of distracter letters.
T2 could follow T1 after either a short or a long interval, so that T2 could occur within or outside the attentional-blink time window.
Participants were not engaged in formal meditation during task performance.
1) Performance in the attentional-blink tasks in both time periods
2) Scalp-recorded brain potentials as reflected in a smaller T1-elicited P3b, a brain-potential index of resource allocation
The behavioral results showed that significantly more practitioners (17 out of 17) than novices (16 out of 23) showed higher T2 detection rates at the second session (time 2) when T2 followed T1 within the attentional blink time window
Intensive mental training was associated with a reduction in T1-elicited P3b amplitude over time in no-blink versus blink trials.
Correlation analyses revealed that those individuals—practitioner or novice—that showed the largest decrease in brain-resource allocation to T1 over time generally showed the greatest improvement in detecting T2
Only the practitioners could exploit this resource-sharing mechanism: the P3b amplitude reduction at the time of the second recording was present only for this group and not for the novices.
Performance in an attentional-blink task and scalp-recorded brain potentials demonstrated that 3 mo of intensive mental training resulted in a smaller attentional blink and reduced brain-resource allocation to the first target.
Those individuals that showed the largest decrease in brain-resource allocation to T1 generally showed the greatest reduction in attentional-blink size.
The ability to accurately identify T2 depends upon the efficient deployment of resources to T1 & provides direct support for the view that the attentional blink results from suboptimal resource sharing
Because participants did not engage in formal meditation during task performance, the observed reduction in T1 capture after 3 mo of intensive meditation suggests that purely mental training of certain attention skills can influence performance on a novel task that calls upon those skills.
Mindfulness training can result in increased control over the distribution of limited brain resources.
This Science Story is based on the article, "Mental Training Affects Distribution of Limited Brain Resources," by Slagter et al 2007 in PLoS Biology
For More information about Mindfulness trainings at work