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Meditation May Fine-Tune Control Over Attention

acting letters and quickly flashed on a screen. As subjects performed the task, their brain activity was recorded with electrodes placed on the scalp. In some cases, two target numbers appeared in the series less than one-half second apart - close enough to fall within the typical attentional blink window.

The research group found that three months of rigorous training in Vipassana meditation improved people's ability to detect a second target within the half-second time window. In addition, though the ability to see the first target did not change, the mental training reduced the amount of brain activity associated with seeing the first target.

"The decrease (of brain activity associated with the first target) strongly predicted the accuracy of their ability to detect the second target," Davidson says.

The results of the study show that devoting fewer neural resources to the first target leaves enough left over to attend to another target that follows shortly after it, he says.

Because the subjects were not meditating during the test, their improvement suggests that prior training can cause lasting changes in how people allocate their mental resources.

"Their previous practice of meditation is influencing their performance on this task," Davidson says. "The conventional view is that attentional resources are limited. This shows that attention capabilities can be enhanced through learning."

The finding that attention is a flexible skill opens up many possibilities, says Davidson. For example, he suggests, "Attention training is worth examining for disorders with attentional components, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder."


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