Effects on attention and creativity

Lippelt, D. P., Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2014). Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring and creativity. Cognition, 5, 1083. Full text.

Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as a topic for scientific research and theories on meditation are becoming ever more specific. We distinguish between what is called Focused Attention meditation, Open Monitoring meditation, and Loving kindness (or compassion) meditation.

Research suggests that these meditations have differential, dissociable effects on a wide range of cognitive (control) processes, such as attentional selection, conflict monitoring, divergent and convergent thinking. Although research on exactly how the various meditations operate on these processes is still missing, different kinds of meditations are associated with different neural structures and different patterns of electroencephalographic activity.

In this review we discuss recent findings on meditation and suggest how the different meditations may affect cognitive processes and we give suggestions for directions of future research.

Mindfulness meditation targets mood and anxiety disorders

Ainsworth, B., Eddershaw, R., Meron, D., Baldwin, D. S., & Garner, M. (2013). The effect of focused attention and open monitoring meditation on attention network function in healthy volunteers. Psychiatry Research. (in press).

Abstract: Mindfulness meditation techniques are increasingly popular both as a life-style choice and therapeutic adjunct for a range of mental and physical health conditions. However, little is known about the mechanisms through which mindfulness meditation and its constituent practices might produce positive change in cognition and emotion.

Our study directly compared the effects of Focused Attention (FA) and Open-Monitoring (OM) meditation on alerting, orienting and executive attention network function in healthy individuals. Participants were randomized to three intervention groups: open-focused meditation, focused attention, and relaxation control. Participants completed an emotional variant of the Attention Network Test (ANT) at baseline and post-intervention.

OM and FA practice improved executive attention, with no change observed in the relaxation control group. Improvements in executive attention occurred in the absence of change in subjective/self-report mood and cognitive function. Baseline levels of dispositional/trait mindfulness were positively correlated with executive control in the ANT at baseline.

Our results suggest that mindfulness meditation might usefully target deficits in executive attention that characterise mood and anxiety disorders.

Attention regulation and monitoring

Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163. Full text.

This article explores initial findings and the implications of neuro-scientific research on meditation. Meditation is conceptualized here as a family of complex emotional and attentional regulatory training regimes developed for various ends, including the cultivation of well-being and emotional balance.

The review focuses on the mental processes and the underlying neural circuitry that are critically involved in two styles of meditation.One style, Focused Attention (FA) meditation, entails the voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object. The other style, Open Monitoring (OM) meditation, involves non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment. We discuss the potential regulatory functions of these practices on attention and emotion processes and their putative long-term impact on the brain and behavior.

Compassion meditation may reduce stress-induced immune responses

Pace, T. W., et al. (2009). Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(1), 87-98.

From the Abstract: Meditation practices may impact physiological pathways that are modulated by stress and relevant to disease. While much attention has been paid to meditation practices that emphasize calming the mind, improving focused attention, or developing mindfulness, less is known about meditation practices that foster compassion. Accordingly, the current study examined the effect of compassion meditation on innate immune, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress and evaluated the degree to which engagement in meditation practice influenced stress reactivity.

… These data suggest that engagement in compassion meditation may reduce stress-induced immune and behavioral responses, although future studies are required to determine whether individuals who engage in compassion meditation techniques are more likely to exhibit reduced stress reactivity.

Reduces the experience of pain

Meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain, according to new research published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Read more.

“This is the first study to show that only a little over an hour of meditation training can dramatically reduce both the experience of pain and pain-related brain activation,” said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “We found a big effect — about a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than even morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”