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The Research: Benefits of mindful meditation

Proven benefits

Recent research in mindfulness has shown that practicing mindfulness meditation, especially mindful breath awareness meditation, significantly enhances mental skills and emotional well-being. Specifically, these studies reveal improvement in visual attention, memory skills, and tasks that require quick and controlled decision-making while maintaining focus. 

The studies also showed that mindfulness meditation strengthens the brain’s networks for managing attention. Changes in brain activity patterns were found, including a continuous brain response to rapidly flickering visual stimuli and a brain wave response associated with detecting conflicts and exerting cognitive control during tasks that demand attention and restraint. These alterations in brain activity indicate more effective processing of visual and cognitive information.

Scientifically Proven

A pivotal study involving 34 participants explored the impact of mindfulness meditation on tasks that require sustained selective visual attention and spatial working memory, such as the Multiple Object Tracking (MOT) task. This task, along with the recording of steady-state visually evoked potentials (SSVEP) – an electroencephalography (EEG) signal triggered by moving objects – provided a window into the participants’ attentional engagement. Intriguingly, after eight weeks of mindful breath awareness meditation, the participants not only showed improved performance in MOT tasks but also a notable reduction in SSVEP amplitudes, an indicator of more efficient attentional resource utilization. This change was not observed in the control group, which practiced progressive muscle relaxation.

This discovery naturally raises questions about the impact of mindfulness meditation on cognitive and emotional functions. Following this line of inquiry, another study investigated how a brief period of mindful breath awareness meditation affects behavioral and neural markers associated with self-control and higher-order thinking.

 

More Research ... More Proof...

The participants, who were assessed before and after three weeks of meditation, showed enhanced neural activity in response to errors and conflict (as measured by the N2 event-related potential and error-related negativity, ERN). These results suggest that mindfulness meditation sharpens metacognitive processes and is particularly beneficial for activities that require impulsive control – a significant insight for health behaviors like substance abuse or overeating.

Furthermore, to quantify the elusive qualities of attention and awareness in mindfulness meditation, a novel approach was employed using the Mindful Awareness Task (MAT). This method helped to empirically characterize attention and awareness during meditation in a study with 143 participants. The findings were revelatory – the MAT provided reliable measurements that correlated with mindfulness practice, attention regulation, and mental health. Interestingly, while cognitive-experimental tasks like sustained visual attention weren’t directly related to mindfulness, the MAT demonstrated that mindful awareness significantly contributes to the practice and benefits of mindfulness meditation.

These studies collectively challenge existing methodologies and conceptualizations in mindfulness science. They underscore the significance of specific meditation practices in enhancing our cognitive abilities and emotional well-being. The evidence points to a paradigm shift in mindfulness research, moving towards a more nuanced understanding of the mechanisms at play. Mindfulness meditation, with its ability to refine our attention networks and metacognitive processes, emerges not just as a therapeutic tool, but as a means to enhance our daily cognitive functions and overall quality of life.

Scientific Research — 1

Mindful breath awareness meditation facilitates efficiency gains in brain networks: A steady-state visually evoked potentials study.

Source

Scientific reports [Sci Rep] 2018 Sep 12; Vol. 8 (1), pp. 13687. Date of Electronic Publication: 2018 Sep 12.

Abstract

The beneficial effects of mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions have stimulated a rapidly growing body of scientific research into underlying psychological processes. Resulting evidence indicates that engaging with mindfulness meditation is associated with increased performance on a range of cognitive tasks. However, the mechanisms promoting these improvements require further investigation. We studied changes in behavioural performance of 34 participants during a multiple object tracking (MOT) task that taps core cognitive processes, namely sustained selective visual attention and spatial working memory. Concurrently, we recorded the steady-state visually evoked potential (SSVEP), an EEG signal elicited by the continuously flickering moving objects, and indicator of attentional engagement. Participants were tested before and after practicing eight weeks of mindful breath awareness meditation or progressive muscle relaxation as active control condition. The meditation group improved their MOT-performance and exhibited a reduction of SSVEP amplitudes, whereas no such changes were observed in the relaxation group. Neither group changed in self-reported positive affect and mindfulness, while a marginal increase in negative affect was observed in the mindfulness group. This novel way of combining MOT and SSVEP provides the important insight that mindful breath awareness meditation may lead to refinements of attention networks, enabling more efficient use of attentional resources.

Scientific Research — 2

Short-term mindful breath awareness training improves inhibitory control and response monitoring.

Source

Progress in brain research [Prog Brain Res] 2019; Vol. 244, pp. 137-163. Date of Electronic Publication: 2019 Jan 17.

Abstract

Mindfulness meditation is thought to lead to positive changes in cognitive and affective functioning. However, the mechanisms underlying these changes are not well understood. One reason for this is that so far only very few studies considered the effects of specific meditation practices. We thus investigated the effects of engaging in one specific form of mindfulness meditation for a brief time period on behavioral and neural indicators of inhibitory control and metacognition. Performance on the Go/No-Go task and concurrent neural activity (EEG) was assessed before and after participants engaged in 3 weeks of mindful breath awareness meditation. Compared to a waitlist control group, meditation training enhanced the N2 event-related potential in No-Go trials and the error-related negativity (ERN) after error responses. As these two components reflect conflict and response monitoring, respectively, our results support the notion that mindfulness meditation improves metacognitive processes. The changes in the ERN were correlated with the accumulated amount of meditation time, highlighting the importance of meditation practice. Furthermore, meditation improved a behavioral marker of impulsive responding, indicating the relevance of mindfulness-based approaches for supporting health-related behaviors that are associated with deficits in impulsive control, such as substance abuse or over-eating. This study demonstrated that investigating one particular meditation practice rather than complex mindfulness-based interventions can contribute to a deeper understanding of mindfulness meditation mechanisms.

Scientific Research — 3

Looking inside the black box of mindfulness meditation: Investigating attention and awareness during meditation using the mindful awareness task (MAT).

Source

Psychological assessment [Psychol Assess] 2023 Mar; Vol. 35 (3), pp. 242-256. Date of Electronic Publication: 2022 Dec 15.

Abstract

Training attention and awareness in mindfulness meditation is theorized to be essential for the cultivation of mindfulness and its salutary outcomes. Yet, the empirical foundation for this central premise in mindfulness science is surprisingly small due to a limited methodological capacity to measure attention and awareness during mindfulness meditation. Accordingly, we set out to measure and study these processes in a laboratory study ( N = 143, 76.92% female) using a novel behavioral measurement paradigm-the mindful awareness task (MAT). We empirically characterized attention and awareness during mindfulness meditation and found novel behavioral evidence indicating that, as long-theorized, these processes were related to previous mindfulness meditation practice, attitudinal qualities of mindfulness, attention regulation, and mental health. Furthermore, we found that the accuracy of self-reported mindfulness was, paradoxically, dependent on behavioral capacities for mindful awareness; and that sustained visual attention and executive functions, measured via cognitive-experimental tasks, were not meaningfully related to attention and awareness during mindfulness meditation. In contrast, the MAT demonstrated sound psychometric performance as a measure of mindful awareness, and may overcome significant limitations of extant mindfulness measurement methods. Collectively, findings challenge conceptual and methodological assumptions in mindfulness science, provide a novel paradigmatic direction for research on mindfulness, and present long-awaited evidence that attention and awareness during mindfulness meditation may indeed be fundamental to its practice, cultivation, and salutary functions.

Conclusion

Using the MAT, a novel behavioral measurement paradigm of mindful awareness, we empirically characterized attention and awareness during mindfulness meditation and provided important evidence that attention and awareness during mindfulness meditation may indeed be fundamental to the practice, cultivation, and salutary functions of mindfulness. Furthermore, we presented novel evidence suggesting that whereas self-report measures and cognitive-experimental tasks may be limited in measuring mindful awareness capacities and attentional processes trained and expressed during mindfulness meditation; the MAT may overcome these limitations and perform as a reliable and valid measure of mindful awareness during meditation. Accordingly, it may provide a valuable measurement paradigm for the field to look inside the “black box” of mindfulness meditation, and thereby explore a variety of questions about attention and awareness in mindfulness meditation and practice.

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