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Meditation May Make Information Processing In the Brain More Efficient

"Attentional-blink" occurs when two pieces of information are presented to a person in very close succession, and the brain doesn't perceive the second piece of information because it is still processing the first. Richard Davidson and colleagues attempted to determine if intensive mental training through meditation could extend the brain's limits on information processing, reducing "attentional-blink."

The researchers compared two groups of people--17 expert meditators and 23 novices--to see if either was better at recognizing two pieces of information shown in quick succession.

The participants were tested at the beginning and end of a 3-month period. For the intervening 3 months, the meditation practitioners participated in a retreat, during which they meditated for 10-12 hours a day. The novices participated in a 1-hour meditation class, and were asked to meditate for 20 minutes a day for the week before each test.

The researchers found that intensive training did reduce "attentional-blink." The participants who had gone through the mental training were more likely to perceive both pieces of information instead of just the first because the brain used fewer resources to detect the first piece of information -- leaving more resources available to detect the second. The researchers also note that this study supports the idea that brain plasticity, or the ability of the brain to adapt, exists throughout life.

Heleen A. Slagter, Antoine Lutz, Lawrence L. Greischar, Andrew D. Francis, Sander Nieuwenhuis, James M. Davis, and Richard J. Davidson, "Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources." PLOS Biology, June 2007.

 
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