Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Distractions in the mind translate to micro movements in the eyes or eyelids, and vice-versa. Stillness of eyes brings stillness of mind, and vice-versa.” – Giovanni

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mind wandering is also present even during meditation. Mind wandering interferes with our concentration on the present moment. Focused meditation, on the other hand, is the antithesis of mind wandering. Indeed, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders.

 

A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during wind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. Meditation is known to reduce the size, connectivity, and activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN).  Hence, brain activity may help identify mind wandering when it occurs. Eye movements occur even when the eyes are closed and during meditation. They may also be indicators of mind wander in during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/), Matiz and colleagues recruited adult experienced meditators. They engaged in a 7-minute focused breath meditation or a 7-minute mind wandering where they were asked to “remember or imagine one or more events of their past or future in which they, or another person, were the protagonist.” During the session brain activity, the electroencephalogram (EEG), was recorded. They derived a measure from the EEG that indicated vertical and horizontal eye movements. They also measured the total amount of meditation experience for each participant.

 

They found that during the 7-minutes of mind wandering there were significantly more eye movements, including both vertical and horizontal movements, than during the7-minutes of  focused meditation. In addition, they found that the more meditation experience that the meditator had, the fewer the eye movements that were recorded under both conditions. Hence, experienced meditators not only move their eyes less during meditation and but also during mind wandering.

 

These are interesting findings that suggest that analysis of the brain’s electrical activity, electroencephalogram (EEG), may be able to detect when mind wandering is occurring during meditation. This could lead to the possibility of providing biofeedback to the meditator when the mind is wandering, lessening the amount of mind wandering and thereby deepening the meditative experience. This is an intriguing possibility for future research.

 

When the mind becomes steady in meditation, the eyeballs also become steady. A Yogi whose mind is calm will have a steady eye. “ – Swami Sivananda

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Matiz, A., Crescentini, C., Fabbro, A., Budai, R., Bergamasco, M., & Fabbro, F. (2019). Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation. PloS one, 14(1), e0210862. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210862

 

Abstract

Oculometric measures have been proven to be useful markers of mind-wandering during visual tasks such as reading. However, little is known about ocular activity during mindfulness meditation, a mental practice naturally involving mind-wandering episodes. In order to explore this issue, we extracted closed-eyes ocular movement measurements via a covert technique (EEG recordings) from expert meditators during two repetitions of a 7-minute mindfulness meditation session, focusing on the breath, and two repetitions of a 7-minute instructed mind-wandering task. Power spectral density was estimated on both the vertical and horizontal components of eye movements. The results show a significantly smaller average amplitude of eye movements in the delta band (1–4 Hz) during mindfulness meditation than instructed mind-wandering. Moreover, participants’ meditation expertise correlated significantly with this average amplitude during both tasks, with more experienced meditators generally moving their eyes less than less experienced meditators. These findings suggest the potential use of this measure to detect mind-wandering episodes during mindfulness meditation and to assess meditation performance.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/

 

Reduce Age-Related Decline in the Brain with Mindfulness

Reduce Age-Related Decline in the Brain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” – B Grace Bullock

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

In today’s Research News article “Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466873/), Ramírez-Barrantes and colleagues review and summarize the research on the effects of meditation practice on brain function and aging focusing primarily on the Default Mode Network (DMN). It is composed of interconnected brain regions including the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, inferior parietal lobule, and inferolateral temporal cortex. It is active when the mind is wandering and when the individual is involved in self-referential thinking.

 

Increased activation and functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) are associated with the cognitive decline with aging. This makes sense as increased mind wandering would interfere with the attentional focus needed for high level thinking. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga have been shown to both reduce the cognitive decline with aging and also to decrease the activation and functional connectivity of the DMN. This suggests that mindfulness practices may help prevent the cognitive decline in aging in part by reducing the activity of the DMN.

 

Ramírez-Barrantes and colleagues propose that age-related cognitive decline may be slowed or prevented by engaging in mindfulness practices that reduce the activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN). This would reduce mind wandering and improve attention focus resulting in a greater ability to engage in high level thinking. Much more research is needed to explore this interesting possibility.

 

So, reduce age-related decline in the brain with mindfulness.

 

“experienced meditators have higher concentrations of tissue in brain regions most depleted by aging. This suggests that meditation practice may help to minimize brain age and protect against age-related decline.” – Matt Caron

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Ramírez-Barrantes, R., Arancibia, M., Stojanova, J., Aspé-Sánchez, M., Córdova, C., & Henríquez-Ch, R. A. (2019). Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?. Neural Plasticity, 2019, 7067592. doi:10.1155/2019/7067592

 

Abstract

Aging is a physiological process accompanied by cognitive decline, principally in memory and executive functions. Alterations in the connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) have been found to participate in cognitive decline, as well as in several neurocognitive disorders. The DMN has antisynchronic activity with attentional networks (task-positive networks (TPN)), which are critical to executive function and memory. Findings pointing to the regulation of the DMN via activation of TPN suggest that it can be used as a strategy for neuroprotection. Meditation is a noninvasive and nonpharmacological technique proven to increase meta-awareness, a cognitive ability which involves the control of both networks. In this review, we discuss the possibility of facilitating healthy aging through the regulation of networks through meditation. We propose that by practicing specific types of meditation, cognitive decline could be slowed, promoting a healthy lifestyle, which may enhance the quality of life for the elderly.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466873/

 

Change Brain Connectivity for Better Attention and Thinking with Mindfulness

Change Brain Connectivity for Better Attention and Thinking with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness meditation training increases resting state connectivity between top-down executive control regions, highlighting an important mechanism through which it reduces stress levels.” – Daniel Reed

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function and emotion regulation and compassion. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects on everything from thinking to mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how mindfulness training could produce such widespread and varied benefits. One possibility is that mindfulness practice results in beneficial changes in the nervous system.

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. The changes are complex and require sophisticated brain scanning techniques to detect. Hence there is a need to continue investigating the nature of these changes in the brain produced by meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Trait Mindfulness and Functional Connectivity in Cognitive and Attentional Resting State Networks.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473082/), Parkinson and colleagues recruited undergraduate students who had never meditated, measured them for mindfulness, and scanned their brains under resting conditions with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They examined the functional connectivity of a number of established neural networks and their relationship with mindfulness.

 

They found that mindfulness was negatively related to the functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) and positively related to the functional connectivity of the Salience Network, the Central Executive Network, and Attention Network. The Default Mode Network (DMN) has been shown to be associated with mind wandering and self-referential thinking. It is not surprising that mindfulness would be associated with lower levels of the functioning of this network. Indeed, previous work has demonstrated that mindfulness is associated with reduced “mind wandering.”

 

The Salience Network is involved in detecting and filtering important stimuli in the environment from the environment and thereby gets involved in a myriad of high level psychological and social functions. The results suggest that being more mindful is associated with being more sensitive to important information.

 

The Central Executive Network has been shown to be associated with high level thinking and behavioral control. Hence, the results further suggest that high mindfulness is associated with improved cognition. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown through extensive research to be associated with better cognitive ability.

 

Finally, the Attention Network has been found to be associated with, no surprise, the ability to attend and focus. This suggests that high mindfulness is associated with improved attention ability. Again, this reflects other research which demonstrated that mindfulness is associated with a greater ability to attend.

 

Hence the study demonstrated the associations with mindfulness with functional connectivity in various neural networks tracks the demonstrated effects of mindfulness on the individual’s ability to focus, think, and stay in the present moment. This further suggests that changes in the operations of the brain are produced by mindfulness and that hese changes in turn produced improved functional capacities.

 

So, change brain connectivity for better attention and thinking with mindfulness.

 

“Just 11 hours of learning a meditation technique induce positive structural changes in brain connectivity by boosting efficiency in a part of the brain that helps a person regulate behavior in accordance with their goals,” – University of Oregon

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Parkinson, T. D., Kornelsen, J., & Smith, S. D. (2019). Trait Mindfulness and Functional Connectivity in Cognitive and Attentional Resting State Networks. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, 112. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00112

 

Abstract

Mindfulness has been described as an orienting of attention to the present moment, with openness and compassion. Individuals displaying high trait mindfulness exhibit this tendency as a more permanent personality attribute. Given the numerous physical and mental health benefits associated with mindfulness, there is a great interest in understanding the neural substrates of this trait. The purpose of the current research was to examine how individual differences in trait mindfulness associated with functional connectivity in five resting-state networks related to cognition and attention: the default mode network (DMN), the salience network (SN), the central executive network (CEN), and the dorsal and ventral attention networks (DAN and VAN). Twenty-eight undergraduate participants completed the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), a self-report measure of trait mindfulness which also provides scores on five of its sub-categories (Observing, Describing, Acting with Awareness, Non-judging of Inner Experience, and Non-reactivity to Inner Experience). Participants then underwent a structural MRI scan and a 7-min resting state functional MRI scan. Resting-state data were analyzed using independent-component analyses. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed to determine the relationship between each resting state network and each FFMQ score. These analyses indicated that: (1) trait mindfulness and its facets showed increased functional connectivity with neural regions related to attentional control, interoception, and executive function; and (2) trait mindfulness and its facets showed decreased functional connectivity with neural regions related to self-referential processing and mind wandering. These patterns of functional connectivity are consistent with some of the benefits of mindfulness—enhanced attention, self-regulation, and focus on present experience. This study provides support for the notion that non-judgmental attention to the present moment facilitates the integration of regions in neural networks that are related to cognition, attention, and sensation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473082/

 

Reduce Mind Wandering with Mindfulness Training Including both Attention and Acceptance Training.

Dreamer

Reduce Mind Wandering with Mindfulness Training Including both Attention and Acceptance Training.

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“being in a mind-wandering state – instead of aware of present moment activities – is not such a happy state. We are generally happier when we are not mind-wandering. “ – Susan L. Smalley

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering.

 

You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our minds are wandering we are actually less happy than when we are paying attention to what is at hand. There are times when mind wandering may be useful, especially in regard to planning and creative thinking. But, for the most part, it interferes with our concentration on the present moment and what we’re doing and makes us unhappy. There is evidence that mindfulness training produces a reduction in mind wandering. Mindfulness training, however, is complex; containing a number of skills including attention training and also acceptance training. It is not known which component or the combination is necessary for the reduction in mind wandering.

 

In today’s Research News article “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Reduces Mind-Wandering: The Critical Role of Acceptance. Emotion.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5329004/ ), Rahl and colleagues recruited participants aged 18-30 years from a university community and randomly assigned them to one of four conditions; attention monitoring-only mindfulness, attention monitoring + acceptance mindfulness, relaxation training program, or listening to neutral reading material in a reading control condition. All training occurred on 4 consecutive days for 20 minutes each and employed pre-recorded trainings. Participants were measured before and after the brief trainings for mindfulness, training expectancy, and sustained attention.

 

They found that the monitoring + acceptance mindfulness group had significantly longer sustained attention, suggesting less mind wandering, than the other three groups. Hence, both attention training and acceptance training in combination are necessary for mindfulness training to reduce mind wandering. In other words, participants need to practice both focusing their attention and also accepting things as they are in order to reduce the likelihood of the mind wandering away from the present moment or the task at hand.

 

This is a bit surprising as it would seem logical that training attention would be the key to restricting mind wandering. But, that was not the case. It was necessary that the individual needs to learn not to judge their experience to reduce mind wandering. This suggests that the process of judging experience takes mental activity that is not focused in the present moment and hence tends to elicit mind wandering.

 

So, reduce mind wandering with mindfulness training including both attention and acceptance training.

 

“By noticing and getting to know our patterns, we untangle from the bind of automaticity. This process is usually a gradual one. We need reminders to come back to awareness again and again. These reminders to wake up are built into mindfulness practice: over time, as we train in noticing and coming back to experience, we can shift from a place of unconscious habit to a place of clearer seeing. This shift can be allowed to happen gently—one moment at a time.” – Ed Halliwell

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Rahl, H. A., Lindsay, E. K., Pacilio, L. E., Brown, K. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Training Reduces Mind-Wandering: The Critical Role of Acceptance. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 17(2), 224–230. http://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000250

 

Abstract

Mindfulness meditation programs, which train individuals to monitor their present moment experience in an open or accepting way, have been shown to reduce mind-wandering on standardized tasks in several studies. Here we test two competing accounts for how mindfulness training reduces mind-wandering, evaluating whether the attention monitoring component of mindfulness training alone reduces mind-wandering or whether the acceptance training component is necessary for reducing mind-wandering. Healthy young adults (N=147) were randomized to either a 3-day brief mindfulness training condition incorporating instruction in both attention monitoring and acceptance, a mindfulness training condition incorporating attention monitoring instruction only, a relaxation training condition, or a reading control condition. Participants completed measures of dispositional mindfulness and treatment expectancies before the training session on Day 1 and then completed a 6-minute Sustained Attention Response Task (SART) measuring mind-wandering after the training session on Day 3. Acceptance training was important for reducing mind-wandering, such that the monitoring + acceptance mindfulness training condition had the lowest mind-wandering relative to the other conditions, including significantly lower mind-wandering relative to the monitor-only mindfulness training condition. In one of the first experimental mindfulness training dismantling studies to-date, we show that training in acceptance is a critical driver of mindfulness training reductions in mind-wandering. This effect suggests that acceptance skills may facilitate emotion regulation on boring and frustrating sustained attention tasks that foster mind-wandering, such as the SART.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5329004/

 

Reduce Mind Wandering and Negative Mood with Mindfulness

Reduce Mind Wandering and Negative Mood with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“being in a mind-wandering state – instead of aware of present moment activities – is not such a happy state. We are generally happier when we are not mind-wandering.” – Susan Smalley

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering.

 

You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our mind is wandering we are actually less happy than when we are paying attention to what is at hand. There are times when mind wandering may be useful, especially in regard to planning and creative thinking. But, for the most part, it interferes with our concentration on the present moment and what we’re doing and makes us unhappy. Hence, it makes sense to study the relationship of mindfulness to mind wandering and negative emotions.

 

In today’s Research News article “Does Mind Wandering Mediate the Association Between Mindfulness and Negative Mood? A Preliminary Study.” (See summary below). Wang and colleagues recruited meditation naïve college students. They completed measures of mindfulness, positive and negative moods, and mind wandering during a 15-minute breath following meditation period. Correlations and sophisticated mediation model analysis were conducted on the students’ responses.

 

They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the higher the levels of positive emotions and the lower the levels of mind wandering and negative emotions. Hence, more mindful students had more positive and less negative emotions and less mind wandering. The mediation analysis revealed that mind wandering partially mediated the relationship between mindfulness and negative emotions but not positive emotions. In other words, mindfulness was directly related to less negative emotions and also indirectly by being related to less mind wandering which in turn was related to less negative emotions.

 

This is a correlational study, so no conclusions can be reached about causation. But there is evidence from other studies that mindfulness training improves mood. So, it is likely that mindfulness caused the greater positive emotions and lower negative emotions in the students in this study. These are interesting results that add to the understanding of how mindfulness affects human emotions. They show that mindfulness influences mood directly and also improves negative mood via reduced mind wandering.

 

So, reduce mind wandering and negative mood with mindfulness.

 

“mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals. . . . meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their own internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on a task at hand.” – Mengran Xu

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Yuzheng Wang, Wei Xu, Capella Zhuang, Xinghua Liu. Does Mind Wandering Mediate the Association Between Mindfulness and Negative Mood? A Preliminary Study. Psychological Reports, Vol 120, Issue 1, pp. 118 – 129, 2017. 10.1177/0033294116686036

 

Abstract

The aim of this study was to assess the relationship between trait mindfulness and mood and to examine whether the relationship is mediated by mind wandering. Eighty-two individuals (M age = 24.27 years, SD = 5.64, 18 men, 22%) completed a series of measures including the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, the Profile of Mood States Questionnaire, and Meditation Breath Attention Exercise. Results showed that the level of mindfulness was significantly correlated with positive and negative mood, and the association between mindfulness and negative mood was mediated by mind wandering. This study indicated the important role of mind wandering in the relation between mindfulness and negative mood. Limitations and future research directions are discussed.

Meditation Improves Well-Being but How You Meditate Can Make a Difference

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and text

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“science confirms the experience of millions of practitioners: meditation will keep you healthy, help prevent multiple diseases, make you happier, and improve your performance in basically any task, physical or mental.” – Giovanni Dienstmann

 

Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

Four types of meditation are the most commonly used practices for research purposes. In body scan meditation, the individual focuses on the feelings and sensations of specific parts of the body, systematically moving attention from one area to another. Loving kindness meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. On the other hand, in open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these stimuli and lets them arise, and fall away without paying them any further attention.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful focused attention, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. In today’s Research News article “Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across 9 Months of Training.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1440840735939848/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-016-0594-9

Kok and Singer examine the similarities and differences between the effects of body scan meditation, loving kindness meditation, focused attention meditation, and open monitoring meditation. They recruited normal adults aged between 20 to 55 and randomly assigned them to three different orders of conditions in a complex research design. Training in each meditation type was conducted for 13 weeks, including a 3-day retreat at the beginning. The participants reported daily on their feeling states, contents of thought, meta-cognition, and 2 minutes of free writing about their thoughts and feelings.

 

All four meditation practices contain a component of focused breathing meditation, so it’s effects can’t be separated from the other three types. They found that all four meditation practices, consistent with the published literature, produced significant increases in positive feelings, focus on the present moment, and body awareness and decreases in mind wandering.

 

There were also considerable differences in the effects of the meditation practices. Body scan meditation, not surprisingly, produced the greatest increase in body awareness and the greatest decrease in thoughts about past, future, and others, and negative thoughts, in other words less mind wandering. Loving kindness meditation produced the greatest increase in positive thoughts and warm feelings about self and others. Open monitoring meditation produced the greatest increase in thought awareness and decrease in distraction by thoughts. These outcomes are consistent with the targeted contents of the practices.

 

It appears that all meditation types have very positive consequences for the practitioner and at the same time each has its own strengths. These strengths then can be taken advantage of to affect targeted issues for the practitioner. If the problem with the individual is a lack of body awareness then body scan meditation is called for, if it’s negative feelings about self and others, then loving kindness meditation would be best, while if it’s with meta-cognition such as awareness of thoughts, then open monitoring meditation should be the choice. In this way meditation practice, can have even greater benefit for the individual.

 

Regardless, improve well-being with meditation.

 

If you have a few minutes in the morning or evening (or both), rather than turning on your phone or going online, see what happens if you try quieting down your mind, or at least paying attention to your thoughts and letting them go without reacting to them. If the research is right, just a few minutes of meditation may make a big difference.” – Alice Walton

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Kok, B.E. & Singer, T. Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across 9 Months of Training. Mindfulness (2016). doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0594-9

 

Abstract

Despite increasing interest in the effects of mental training practices such as meditation, there is much ambiguity regarding whether and to what extent the various types of mental practice have differential effects on psychological change. To address this gap, we compare the effects of four common meditation practices on measures of state change in affect, mind-wandering, meta-cognition, and interoception. In the context of a 9-month mental training program called the ReSource Project, 229 mid-life adults (mean age 41) provided daily reports before and after meditation practice. Participants received training in the following three successive modules: the first module (presence) included breathing meditation and body scan, the second (affect) included loving-kindness meditation, and the third (perspective) included observing-thought meditation. Using multilevel modeling, we found that body scan led to the greatest state increase in interoceptive awareness and the greatest decrease in thought content, loving-kindness meditation led to the greatest increase in feelings of warmth and positive thoughts about others, and observing-thought meditation led to the greatest increase in meta-cognitive awareness. All practices, including breathing meditation, increased positivity of affect, energy, and present focus and decreased thought distraction. Complementary network analysis of intervariate relationships revealed distinct phenomenological clusters of psychological change congruent with the content of each practice. These findings together suggest that although different meditation practices may have common beneficial effects, each practice can also be characterized by a distinct short-term psychological fingerprint, the latter having important implications for the use of meditative practices in different intervention contexts and with different populations.

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-016-0594-9

 

Improve Attention by Reducing Mind Wandering with Mindfulness

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness meditation promotes metacognitive awareness, decreases rumination via disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities and enhances attentional capacities through gains in working memory. These cognitive gains, in turn, contribute to effective emotion-regulation strategies.” – Daphne Davis

 

Human life is one of constant change. We revel in our increases in physical and mental capacities during development, but regret their decreases during aging. The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. There is some hope for age related cognitive decline, however, as there is evidence that it can be slowed. There are some indications that physical and mental exercise can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and lower the chances of dementia. For example, contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi or qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging. Indeed, mindfulness practices have been shown to improve cognitive processes.

 

We spend a tremendous amount of time with our minds wandering and not on the task or the environment at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering. You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our mind is wandering we are actually unhappier than when we are paying attention to what is at hand.

 

It is unclear as to what role mind wandering plays in age related cognitive decline and what influence mindfulness may have on it. This question was explored in today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness and the wandering mind: Implications for attentional control in older adults.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1426451347378787/?type=3&theater

or see summary below, Fountain-Zaragoza and colleagues recruited 60-74-year old participants and measured mindfulness, mind wandering, inhibitory and sustained attention, proactive attention, reactive attention and working memory. They found that in these elderly participants the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of task-unrelated thoughts and task-related interference and the higher the levels of reactive attention. That is high mindfulness was associated with less mind wandering and greater attention in reaction to the environment. It was also found that mindfulness appeared to affect proactive attention by way of mind wandering particularly in participants with low levels of working memory.

 

These results suggest that in older adults, mindfulness helps to control mind wandering, but when the mind wanders mindfulness appears to be able to elicit proactive attentional mechanisms. That is to work ahead of time to insure, that attention is focused on the task at hand in spite of the tendency for the mind to wander. In other words, mindfulness appears to keep the individual attending appropriately by reducing mind wandering and by working ahead of time to counteract the effects of mind wandering.

 

So, improve attention by reducing mind wandering with mindfulness.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

“Mindfulness is a valuable practice for improving the cognitive symptoms of depression, such as distorted thinking and distractibility. It helps individuals recognize these more subtle symptoms, realize that thoughts are not facts and refocus their attention to the present.”Margarita Tartakovsk

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Fountain-Zaragoza S, Londerée A, Whitmoyer P, Prakash RS. Dispositional mindfulness and the wandering mind: Implications for attentional control in older adults. Conscious Cogn. 2016 Aug;44:193-204. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2016.08.003.

 

Highlights

  • Mindfulnessand task-unrelated thought are negatively associated in older adults.
  • Mindfulness is differentially related to types of attentional control.
  • No association was found between mind-wandering and cognitive performance.
  • Task-unrelated thought mediates mindfulness-proactive control associations.

Abstract

Age-related cognitive decline brings decreases in functional status. Dispositional mindfulness, the tendency towards present-moment attention, is hypothesized to correspond with enhanced attention, whereas mind-wandering may be detrimental to cognition. The relationships among mindfulness, task-related and task-unrelated thought, and attentional control performance on Go/No-Go and Continuous Performance tasks were examined in older adults. Dispositional mindfulness was negatively associated with task-unrelated thought and was positively associated with reactive control, but not proactive control or Go/No-Go performance. Although mind-wandering was not directly associated with performance, task-unrelated thought mediated the mindfulness-proactive control relation. Fewer task-unrelated thoughts were associated with lower proactive control. Interestingly, this effect was moderated by working memory such that it was present for those with low-average, but not high, working memory. This study highlights the importance of dispositional mindfulness and mind-wandering propensity in accounting for individual differences in attentional control in older adults, providing important targets for future cognitive remediation interventions.

Reduce Brain Induced Mind Wandering with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Our minds wander, on average 50 percent of the time. The exact rate varies enormously. . . . Noticing where your mind has gone – checking your twitter feed instead of working on that report – gives you the chance for a second thought: “my mind has wandered off again.” That very thought disengages your brain from where it has wandered and activates brain circuits that can help your attention get unstuck and return to the work at hand.” – Daniel Goleman

 

We spend a tremendous amount of our time with our minds wandering and not on the task or the environment at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. You’d think that if we spend so much time doing this it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our mind is wandering we are actually unhappier than when we are paying attention to what is at hand.

 

A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during wind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. It is involved when we are engaged in internally focused tasks such as recalling deeply personal memories, daydreaming, sleeping, imagining the future and trying to take the perspective of others. The DMN involves neural structures including the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, precuneus, inferior parietal cortex, and lateral temporal cortex. These areas of the DMN are functionally connected, such that they are simultaneously active during mind wandering.

 

Meditation is known to reduce the size and activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) through a process known as neuroplasticity where the size and connectivity of neural structures are modified by experience. In addition, meditation appears to decrease the functional connectivity of these structures.  The research underlying these conclusions, however, suffer from a flaw in that meditation is compared to rest or to non-meditators. It is possible that any active mental task could also have the same effects on the DMN. There is thus a need to investigate the differences between the effects of meditation and other active mental activities on the activity of the DMN.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1399745846716004/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4529365/

Garrison and colleagues recruited experienced meditators and non-meditators and scanned their brains (functional Magnetic Imaging, fMRI) while they either followed meditation instructions or an active mental task, making decisions as to whether adjectives applied to the self or to case. As expected the meditators reported less mind wandering during meditation. Importantly, they found that the meditators had significantly lower activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) than the controls during the meditations but not during the active task.

 

These findings are important in that they demonstrate that the reduction in the DMN activity is not due to just any active mental task but specifically to meditation. The results also replicate the finding that meditation lowers mind wandering and the activity of the DMN. Hence meditation in particular appears to have the ability to reduce mind wandering, improving focus, by decreasing the activity of the brain system responsible for mind wandering.

 

So, reduce brain induced mind wandering with meditation.

 

“new knowledge about the default mode network and the self-reflecting thoughts that it stimulates may facilitate our understanding of how we function in our daily lives. We are more than intellect or the motor control of arms and legs, which is often the focus of brain researchers. Perhaps it may at times be good to know that our brain actually gives us room for our spontaneous thoughts and the associations and emotions that may at first seem a bit weird.” – Marcus Raichle

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Garrison, K. A., Zeffiro, T. A., Scheinost, D., Constable, R. T., & Brewer, J. A. (2015). Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 15(3), 712–720. http://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-015-0358-3

 

Abstract

Meditation has been associated with relatively reduced activity in the default mode network, a brain network implicated in self-related thinking and mind wandering. However, previous imaging studies have typically compared meditation to rest despite other studies reporting differences in brain activation patterns between meditators and controls at rest. Moreover, rest is associated with a range of brain activation patterns across individuals that has only recently begun to be better characterized. Therefore, this study compared meditation to another active cognitive task, both to replicate findings that meditation is associated with relatively reduced default mode network activity, and to extend these findings by testing whether default mode activity was reduced during meditation beyond the typical reductions observed during effortful tasks. In addition, prior studies have used small groups, whereas the current study tested these hypotheses in a larger group. Results indicate that meditation is associated with reduced activations in the default mode network relative to an active task in meditators compared to controls. Regions of the default mode showing a group by task interaction include the posterior cingulate/precuneus and anterior cingulate cortex. These findings replicate and extend prior work indicating that suppression of default mode processing may represent a central neural process in long-term meditation, and suggest that meditation leads to relatively reduced default mode processing beyond that observed during another active cognitive task.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4529365/

 

Reduce Mind Wandering Produced by the Brain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“the default mode network always takes you somewhere other than where you are. You are not focused on the immediate environment and will also be “time-travelling” in the past or future – never in the present moment. . . Interestingly, researchers have found that the default mode network is less active when people meditate.” – Mindful Call

 

Mindfulness is the ability to focus on what is transpiring in the present moment. It involves a greater emphasis on attention to the immediate stimulus environment. Mindful people generally have better attentional abilities and have fewer intrusive thoughts and less mind wandering. As a result, mindfulness has been shown to be associated with differences in thought processes. A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during mind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. It is involved when we are engaged in internally focused tasks such as recalling deeply personal memories, daydreaming, sleeping, imagining the future and trying to take the perspective of others. The DMN involves neural structures including the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, precuneus, inferior parietal cortex, and lateral temporal cortex. These areas of the DMN are functionally connected, such that they are simultaneously active during mind wandering.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to alter the size and activity of neural structures including reducing the size and activity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) as a result of neuroplasticity. The DMN, however, is a network of interconnected structures which are, in turn, connected to a number of other neural structures. This interconnectivity reflects the ability of these structures to affect other structures in the brain, in other words, the effects of mind wandering on other brain systems. Hence, it is important to investigate the effects of mindfulness training on the functional connectivity of the structures of the Default Mode Network (DMN) and the neural structures connected to these structures.

 

In today’s Research News article “Data for default network reduced functional connectivity in meditators, negatively correlated with meditation expertise.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1328281653862424/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352340916304504

Berkovich-Ohana and colleagues performed functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of the brains of experienced meditators in comparison to similar individuals who did not meditate while at rest and during meditation.

 

They found that at rest the functional connectivity within the structures of the DMN and within the neural structures associated with vision were lower in meditators and that this functional connectivity decreased during meditation. They also found that the meditators had greater functional connectivity between the DMN and the visual system structures than the non-meditators and this also decreased during meditation. In addition, they found that the greater the experience with meditation the lower the functional connectivity between the DMN and other neural structures. These findings suggest that meditation lowers the ability of the structures associated with mind wandering to affect other structures in the nervous system. They also suggest that meditation practice produces less internal connectivity within these structures underlying mind wandering. Finally, these findings suggest that visualizations dissociated from the focus of attention may be higher in the meditators. This may indicate that when meditators’ minds wander they contain more vivid visual imagery.

 

These data are interesting and demonstrate that meditation alters the internal connectivity of the structures that produce mind wandering and their ability to affect other neural structures. Hence, the functional connectivity of brain structures reflects the experiences of meditators of reduced mind wandering. Meditation appears to change the brain to produce less mind wandering.

 

So, reduce mind wandering produced by the brain with mindfulness.

 

“What may happen when people practise mindfulness is that, over time, this weakens the connection between their thalamus and the rest of the default mode network. Their trait mindfulness score would climb as a result and they might just become more mentally robust and less prone to depression and other mental illnesses. That really would be brain plasticity in action.” – Plastic Brain

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Berkovich-Ohana A, Harel M, Hahamy A, Arieli A, Malach R. Data for default network reduced functional connectivity in meditators, negatively correlated with meditation expertise. Data Brief. 2016 Jul 15;8:910-4. doi: 10.1016/j.dib.2016.07.015. eCollection 2016 Sep. PMID: 2750824

 

Abstract

FMRI data described here was recorded during resting-state in Mindfulness Meditators (MM) and control participants (see “Task-induced activity and resting-state fluctuations undergo similar alterations in visual and DMN areas of long-term meditators” Berkovich-Ohana et al. (2016) [1] for details). MM participants were also scanned during meditation. Analyses focused on functional connectivity within and between the default mode network (DMN) and visual network (Vis). Here we show data demonstrating that: 1) Functional connectivity within the DMN and the Visual networks were higher in the control group than in the meditators; 2) Data show an increase for the functional connectivity between the DMN and the Visual networks in the meditators compared to controls; 3) Data demonstrate that functional connectivity both within and between networks reduces during meditation, compared to the resting-state; and 4) A significant negative correlation was found between DMN functional connectivity and meditation expertise.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352340916304504

http://ac.els-cdn.com/S2352340916304504/1-s2.0-S2352340916304504-main.pdf?_tid=3b020506-60c4-11e6-bbcf-00000aacb360&acdnat=1471030840_5c9ab5e6d389861ca100e4384dec9a9f

 

Unstick a Wandering Mind for Task Performance

Mind Wandering Task Performance2 Van VogtBy John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“people are substantially less happy when their minds are wandering than when they’re not, which is unfortunate considering we do it so often. Moreover, the size of this effect is large—how often a person’s mind wanders, and what they think about when it does, is far more predictive of happiness than how much money they make, for example.” – Matt Killingsworth

 

We spend a tremendous amount of time with our minds wandering and not on the task or the environment at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mindfulness is the antithesis of mind wandering. When we’re mindful, we’re paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In fact, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders and mindfulness training reduces mind wandering.

 

You’d think that if we spend so much time with the mind wandering it must be enjoyable. But, in fact research has shown that when our mind is wandering we are actually unhappier than when we are paying attention to what is at hand. There are times when mind wandering may be useful, especially in regard to planning and creative thinking. But, for the most part, it interferes with our concentration on the task at hand. People differ in the amount of time their mind wanders and, when the mind wanders, the difficulty they have disengaging from the off-task thoughts and returning to present moment attention. This is referred to as the stickiness of mind-wandering.

 

In today’s Research News article “Self-Reported Stickiness of Mind-Wandering Affects Task Performance.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1295900037100586/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4870246/

Van Vugt and Broers investigate the relationship of this stickiness of mind-wandering to how well individuals do in performing a task that requires attention, a go, no-go decision task. On some of the trials the subjects, prior to task onset, were reminded of one of the things that were currently on their mind, as a means of evoking mind wandering. On other trials, no such reminders were present. Participants were asked what their mental state was during the trial and how difficult it was to disengage from the wandering thoughts and return to attention to the task, stickiness.

 

They found that establishing a current concern prior to the trial did not increase mind wandering, but decreased the accuracy of performance. But, as expected, when the mind was wandering, it interfered with performance of the attention demanding task. They also found that the more difficulty that the participant had in disengaging from wandering thoughts, stickiness, the more mind wandering occurred and the lower the accuracy of response in the task. So, not only the amount of mind wandering, but also the stickiness of the mind wandering was detrimental to performance on a task that demands attention.

 

These results are interesting and show that mind wandering and stickiness can be studied in the laboratory under controlled conditions. It remains to be seen if mindfulness training can improve this kind of task performance and reduce mind wandering and stickiness. It has been demonstrated that mindfulness improves attention and cognitive task performance. But, it is not known whether it can change stickiness. Regardless, it is clear that we must unstick a wandering mind for task performance.

 

In mindfulness what gets stronger are the brain’s circuits for noticing when your mind has wandered, letting go, and returning to your chosen focus. And that’s just what we need to stay with during that one important task we’re working on.” – Daniel Goleman

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Van Vugt, M. K., & Broers, N. (2016). Self-Reported Stickiness of Mind-Wandering Affects Task Performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 732. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00732

 

Abstract

When asked to perform a certain task, we typically spend a decent amount of time thinking thoughts unrelated to that task–a phenomenon referred to as “mind-wandering.” It is thought that this mind-wandering is driven at least in part by our unfinished goals and concerns. Previous studies have shown that just after presenting a participant with their own concerns, their reports of task-unrelated thinking increased somewhat. However, effects of these concerns on task performance were somewhat inconsistent. In this study we take the opposite approach, and examine whether task performance depends on the self-reported thought content. Specifically, a particularly intriguing aspect of mind-wandering that has hitherto received little attention is the difficulty of disengaging from it, in other words, the “stickiness” of the thoughts. While presenting participants with their own concerns was not associated with clear effects on task performance, we showed that the reports of off-task thinking and variability of response times increased with the amount of self-reported stickiness of thoughts. This suggests that the stickiness of mind-wandering is a relevant variable, and participants are able to meaningfully report on it.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4870246/