In previous work, experienced meditators demonstrated sustained high-amplitude gamma oscillations during meditation at frequencies associated with mental processes such as attention, working memory, and perception, suggesting that meditation might lead to long-term behavioral and neural changes. We examined the effects of meditation experience on attention, perception, and decision-making through two studies of individuals with extensive meditation experience. Participants completed an attentional blink task (Most et al., 2005) in which the goal was to identify a rotated image within a stream of rapidly presented pictures. On some trials, the target was preceded by a negative image, which typically impairs performance. In an fMRI study, participants engaged in a social decision-making game adapted from Sanfey et al. (2003), viewed a series of emotional images, and rated their subjective feelings. In the face of negative emotional distractors, meditators demonstrated detection accuracy rates higher than previously reported (Most et al., 2005) for the same task by healthy adults with a considerably lower mean (80% vs. 71%; t=2.52, p<.05), suggesting less attention disruption from negative images. Subjective ratings of image valence and arousal were comparable to those previously reported. Meditators showed less decrements in performance between trials with emotional distractors at short versus long lags than previously published (3% vs. 20%; t =-3.68, p<.001). Given the small sample to date, it is not possible to report results for the neuroimaging study at this time. Preliminary results suggest that negative images have less of a distracting effect on meditators, despite similar subjective reactions to the images. We are currently recruiting additional experienced meditators and seeking matched control subjects, thus our results are not yet conclusive. We anticipate completing the behavioral study within 1-2 months, and that the fMRI portion will take longer to complete–likely 4-6 months.

Deidre Kolarick Reis

Yale University