One session of focused attention meditation alters cognitive control
Our recent meditation study shows that only a single session of focused attention meditation can reveal a cognitive state in which currently irrelevant information is suppressed more.
Focused attention meditation or FAM put the focus on one particular sensation or object. Besides FAM, also open monitoring meditation (OMM) is a well-known meditation practice. OMM calls for monitoring experience from moment to moment, without reacting to or judging the content of experience. OMM is assumed to weaken top-down control, whereas FAM strengthens it and therefore provides support for solving the conflict between relevant and irrelevant information.
In our recent study, the influence of FAM and OMM on top-down control was investigated by the global-local task, which presents big squares or rectangles composed of small squares or rectangles. The stimuli could either be congruent (large square composed of small squares, large rectangle composed of small rectangles) or incongruent (large square composed of small rectangles or the other way around). FAM was expected to result in smaller congruency effects than OMM, since FAM is assumed to increase top-down control. Twenty-two participants participated in two sessions separated by one week. A session existed of the 17-min meditation instruction (type of meditation was counterbalanced across sessions), the global-local task and three times a session mood measures were admitted.
The findings were clear-cut. There was no effect of meditation on the global precedence effect (faster responses to the large figures than to the small figures), but the influence of meditation on the congruency effect was significant. The FAM instruction reduced the congruency effect, which indicates that after one FAM session, participants engaged more in suppressing irrelevant information and had a more efficient cognitive goal persistence than after the OMM session.
These findings suggest that one session of FAM increases cognitive control. Definitely something to try out the upcoming exams!
Colzato, L.S., van der Wel, P., Sellaro, R., & Hommel, B. (2016). A single bout of meditation biases cognitive control but not attentional focusing: Evidence from the global-local task. Consciousness and Cognition, 39, 1-7