How Meditation Helps Your Attention Span

Studies have shown that when a person is attentive, the brain waves show specific alpha waves (frequency around 7 to 14 Hz). This study attempted to investigate whether changes in these alpha waves by intentional mindful meditation could lead to better attention span. The results showed that participants who underwent eight weeks of training in mindfulness meditation and continuous attention concentration training had improved control over their alpha waves as seen by brain wave studies using magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recordings. “This finding is the first to show enhanced local alpha modulation following sustained attentional training, and implicates this form of enhanced neural regulation in the behavioral effects of meditative practice.”

There is evidence that the primary sensory cortex of the brain, in response to visual stimulus or visual concentration or attention, leads to changes in the alpha waves (frequency 7 to 14 Hz). Such decreases in the alpha waves in response to a cue of visual stimulus means better concentration and attention, directing to specific body regions as observed in earlier studies. It is supposed that the alpha waves can be modulated and they act as specific signals to various nerve transmissions in the brain that play a role in attention and concentration. The authors of the current study attempted to investigate whether meditation may indeed control attention by modulating the alpha waves of the brain.

* For the study, 12 adults (less than 50 years of age) who were free from any physical or psychiatric ailment were selected. All the adults were right-handed English speakers. Six adults were included in the meditation group and six adults were included in the other non-meditation or control group.
* During the experiment, two types of cues were provided to the adults. One of the cues was a sensory or touch cue, related to which the brain activity was observed in the adult participants. The other was a visual stimulus, which was provided on a screen.
* The brain waves were studied for all the participants using MEG. It was found from earlier studies that the lower band of 7 to 8 Hz was linked to arousal and waking up, a middle band of 9 to 10 Hz was linked to concentration and attention, and an upper band of 11 to 14 Hz was linked to memory and related functions.

Key findings
* The results showed that meditators have a more significant enhancement of their alpha waves when they are given a stimulus 600 to 800 milliseconds after the cue.
* The meditators also showed an increasing improvement in their alpha waves over the eight weeks of meditations, but those in the control group showed no similar improvement.
* The meditators showed a definite improvement in their middle band (9 to 10 Hz), which was linked to attention and concentration.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The authors agree that this study did not look into details related to the dynamics of alpha waves in response to touch-related stimulus. They did not analyze whether meditation itself could have improved the ability to detect the touch stimulus better. The authors agree that there is a need for further studies that teach two different types of meditation to the two groups and then analyze the effects of the alpha waves. One of them could be mindful meditation and the other could be a technique that teaches the person to focus only on a phrase or word, but not on visual or touch cues.

This is the first study to show a behavioral intervention like mindfulness meditation and their effects in controlling and regulating the alpha waves in the brain to improve attention and concentration to visual and touch stimulus. The results showed that compared to those in the control group that did not have meditation training or practice, the meditators performed better in controlling their brain alpha waves and thus improved their concentration. Over the eight weeks of the study period, this ability seemed to improve as well. Notably, the meditators performed better in keeping the alpha waves in the 9 to 10 Hz band to improve their attention. This study lays the foundation for further studies that analyze better ways of regulation of the brain and attention using meditation.

For More Information:
Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Anticipatory Alpha Modulation in Primary Somatosensory Cortex
Publication Journal: Brain Research Bulletin, 2011
By Catherine E. Kerr; Stephanie R. Jones; Harvard Osher Research Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

Tags from the story
, , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *