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Meditation May Sharpen Attention

Meditation may train the brain to pay close attention, a new
study shows.

The study comes from researchers including Richard Davidson, PhD, professor
of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

They studied 17 people who were experienced in meditation and 23 people of
similar backgrounds who were novices in meditation.

For three months, the experienced meditation practitioners attended an
intensive meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass.
During the retreat, they practiced Vipassana meditation for 10-12 hours
daily.

"In this common style of meditation, one starts by focusing or
stabilizing concentration on an object such as the breath," Davidson's team
writes.

"Then one broadens one's focus, cultivating a nonreactive form of
sensory awareness or 'bare' attention," the researchers continue. "This
form of attention is nonreactive in the sense that ideally one does not become
caught up in judgments and affective [mood] responses about sensory or mental
stimuli."

For comparison, the 23 meditation novices attended one hour of meditation
training and were asked to meditate for 20 minutes daily for one week.

Attention Test

At the end of their meditation training, the researchers tested
participants' attention skills.

In the attention test, participants watched a series of letters shown one by
one on a computer screen. Each letter was displayed for less than a second.

Every now and then, a letter was followed by a number, instead of another
letter. Participants were asked to name the numbers, which (like the letters)
only appeared for a split second.

The researchers didn't ask participants to meditate during the tests.

Compared with the meditation novices, participants who had attended the
three-month intensive meditation retreat were better at noticing the numbers
mixed into the string of letters.

The researchers say the findings show that meditation served as mental
training that improved control over attention.

The study appears in Public Library of Science Biology.


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By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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