A week-long meditation retreat decouples behavioral measures of the alerting and executive attention networks.Front Hum Neurosci 2014; 8:69FH
PREVIOUS STUDIES HAVE EXAMINED THE INFLUENCE OF MEDITATION ON THREE FUNCTIONALLY DIFFERENT COMPONENTS OF ATTENTION: executive control, alerting, and orienting. These studies have consistently found that meditation training improves both executive attention and alerting, but there has not been a consistent and clear effect of meditation training on orienting. In addition, while previous studies have shown that the functional coupling of the alerting and executive networks increases the processing of task irrelevant stimuli, it is unknown if participating in a meditation retreat can decouple these components of attention and lead to improved performance. The current study investigated the influence of a week-long intensive meditation retreat on three components of attention by randomly assigning participants to either pre- or postretreat testing groups. A modified attention network test (ANT) was used. Executive attention was measured as the difference in response time (RT) between congruent and incongruent task irrelevant flankers (conflict effect). Reflexive and volitional orienting were measured by manipulating cue validity and stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). The coupling of executive attention and alerting was measured by examining flanker interference as a function of the SOA of an alerting cue. The meditation retreat improved task based indices of executive attention, but not reflexive or volitional orienting. There was clear behavioral evidence of coupling between executive attention and alerting in the preretreat group, as the conflict effect peaked when an alerting cue was presented 300 ms before the target. Importantly, there was no increase in the conflict effect for the postretreat group. This is consistent with the notion that the retreat decoupled the executive and alerting networks. These results suggest that previously reported improvements in the executive and alerting networks after meditation training might be mediated by the same underlying mechanism.