The beneficial effects of meditation on general health are well known, but what is surprising to many researchers is its positive effect on attention.
Australian Neuroscientist Dylan DeLosAngeles measured the brainwaves of a 13-person meditation group as they progressed through five different meditative states. He expected to find a brain pattern that slowly moved toward sleep, or increased Delta waves.
Instead, he found that Delta waves actually decreased. The brainwaves of these meditators indicated a calm, attentive mind, as opposed to a sluggish or dazed one. Alpha waves increased during the first states of meditation analyzed, and later decreased as the meditators moved on to other states.
Last month another study was published on the meditation-attention link, this time analyzing the effects on inexperienced students after just 5 days of meditation training. This is unique because most of research so far has been focused on experienced meditators.
Here is what they found:
Recent studies suggest that months to years of intensive and systematic meditation training can improve attention. However, the lengthy training required has made it difficult to use random assignment of participants to conditions to confirm these findings. This article shows that a group randomly assigned to 5 days of meditation practice with the integrative body–mind training method shows significantly better attention and control of stress than a similarly chosen control group given relaxation training. The training method comes from traditional Chinese medicine and incorporates aspects of other meditation and mindfulness training. Compared with the control group, the experimental group of 40 undergraduate Chinese students given 5 days of 20-min integrative training showed greater improvement in conflict scores on the Attention Network Test, lower anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, and higher vigor on the Profile of Mood States scale, a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol, and an increase in immunoreactivity. These results provide a convenient method for studying the influence of meditation training by using experimental and control methods similar to those used to test drugs or other interventions.
This matches the subjective reports I’ve received from people over the years. It doesn’t take long to see a noticeable effect. This is great news for meditation newbies, but don’t discount the beneficial effects of a long-lasting daily meditation routine. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, studied both experienced and novice meditators. He found long-time meditators to be less susceptible to “attentional blink”, which means they are able to distinguish between two closely spaced objects where other people can not. He also found that extremely experienced meditators showed less brain activation in response to distracting sounds, while showing more activity than novices in regions related to concentration.
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