Experienced Meditators Show Multifaceted Attention-Related Differences in Neural Activity

Neil W. Bailey, Oliver Baell, Jake Payne, Gregory Humble, Harry Geddes, Isabella Cahill, Aron T. Hill, Sung Wook Chung, Melanie Emonson, Oscar Murphy, Paul B. Fitzgerald

Research output: Other contributionResearch


Objectives Mindfulness meditation (MM) is suggested to improve attention. Research has explored this using the ‘attentional-blink’ (AB) task, where stimuli are rapidly presented, and a second target stimulus (T2) is often missed if presented ∼300ms after an initial target stimulus (T1). This research showed improved task-accuracy and altered neural activity after an intensive 3-month MM retreat. We tested whether these results replicated in a community sample of typical meditators.

Methods Thirty-one mindfulness meditators and 30 non-meditators completed an AB task while electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded. Between-group comparisons were made for task-accuracy, event-related potential activity (posterior-N2 and P3b), theta and alpha oscillatory phase synchronisation to stimuli presentation, and alpha-power. Primary aims examined effects within time windows reported by previous research. Additional exploratory aims assessed effects across broader time windows.

Results No differences were detected in task-accuracy or neural activity within our primary hypotheses. However, exploratory analyses showed posterior-N2 and theta phase synchronisation effects indicating meditators prioritised attending to T2 stimuli (p < 0.01). Meditators also showed more alpha-phase synchronisation, and lower alpha-power when processing T2 stimuli (p < 0.025).

Conclusions Our results showed multiple differences in neural activity that suggested enhanced attention in meditators. The neural activity patterns in meditators aligned with theoretical perspectives on activity associated with enhanced cognitive performance. These include enhanced alpha ‘gating’ mechanisms, increased oscillatory synchronisation to stimuli, and more equal allocation of neural activity across stimuli. However, meditators did not show higher task-accuracy, nor did effects align with our primary hypotheses or previous research.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputbioRxiv
Number of pages64
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2023

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