Meditation Practice Amplifies Awareness of the Cause of an Event
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“What is an illusion is when you are looking but not seeing completely, listening but also daydreaming. To walk around half perceiving and half in a daydream, this is to walk around in an illusion and in a dream. What is worse is when the dreams of the mind cloud perception.” – Brian Miles
Meditation, by training and improving attention to everything that occurs, is thought to produce a greater awareness of cause and effect. This is particularly evident in recognizing when an event was caused by one’s own volitional actions. One way to measure this is called “Intentional binding.” It refers to the subjectively reported time compression that occurs between an intentional action and its outcome when compared to the timing of an action alone and of an event that does not depend upon an action” (Haggard, Clark and Kalogeras 2002). In other words, when an event is perceived to have been produced intentionally, the time between the cause and effect is experienced as shorter than if there was no intention involved.
It would be predicted, then, that if experienced meditators had better attentional ability that they should show greater “Intentional binding” than non-meditators; they should estimate less time between a cause and an effect when they are the initiator of the event than when they are not.. In today’s Research News article “Illusory Temporal Binding in Meditators.” See:
or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:
Lush and colleagues examine this prediction. They recruited experienced meditators with on average 15 years of experience and a group of age and gender matched non-meditators. The participants either initiated the presentation of a tone by pressing a button which produced the tone a quarter of a second later or simply observed the tone presented by the computer. After a delay the participants move a clock hand to the time that they experienced the tone occurring. The difference between the actual time and the perceived time of the tone was measured. “Intentional binding” was measured by the difference between the errors for the intentional and the non-intentional conditions.
They found that meditators errors were significantly greater in estimating the time of occurrence of the tone as earlier when they initiated the tone than when they didn’t. This suggests greater “Intentional binding” for the meditators than the matched non-meditators. Although this is a fairly indirect way of measuring the individual’s ability to recognize the cause of an event, it suggests that meditation improves the individual’s ability to recognize intention. This, in turn, suggests that meditation training makes an individual more aware of agency, that is what caused and event to occur.
These results further document the improvements in attentional ability produced by meditation practice. In this case the attention to the cause of events occurring in their experience. Meditation practice appears to alter our mental processing of experience heightening our attention to and awareness of what is occurring around us. Since most modern people are constantly distracted and rarely in contact with what is actually happening around them in the present moment, meditation practice would appear to be an antidote to the modern disease of inattention to the present.
“Whether you’re interested in mindfulness or cognitive neuroscience, perception is at the heart of your work with others. Helping people become aware of their perceptions assists them in counterbalancing a tendency to become awash with their affect.“ – Megan Van Meter
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Lush, P., Parkinson, J. & Dienes, Z. Illusory Temporal Binding in Meditators. Mindfulness (2016) 7: 1416. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0583-z
We investigate conditions in which more accurate metacognition may lead to greater susceptibility to illusion and thus conditions under which mindfulness meditation may lead to less accurate perceptions. Specifically, greater awareness of intentions may lead to an illusory compression of time between a voluntary action and its outcome (“intentional binding”). Here, we report that experienced Buddhist mindfulness meditators rather than non-meditators display a greater illusory shift of the timing of an outcome toward an intentional action. Mindfulness meditation involves awareness of causal connections between different mental states, including intentions. We argue that this supports improvements in metacognition targeted at motor intentions. Changes in metacognitive ability may result in an earlier and less veridical experience of the timing of action outcomes either through increased access to sensorimotor pre-representations of an action outcome or by affording greater precision to action timing judgements. Furthermore, as intentional binding is an implicit measure of the sense of agency; these results also provide evidence that mindfulness meditators experience a stronger sense of agency.