Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Training attention through intensive meditation: Improvements in sustained performance and response inhibition
by MacLean, Katherine Anne, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2009, 141; 3379639
Abstract (Summary)

The ability to focus attention underlies success on many everyday tasks, but voluntary attention cannot be sustained indefinitely. In the laboratory, perceptual sensitivity declines with increasing time on task, a phenomenon called the vigilance decrement. The aim of this dissertation was to demonstrate that vigilance - that is, performance over extended periods of time - can be improved in healthy adults.

The experiments in Chapter 1 describe the effects of attentional cues on performance in two related vigilance tasks: a sustained attention task that required responses to rare targets occurring in a sequence of non-targets, and a sustained response inhibition task that required responses to the frequent non-targets and withholding of responses to the rare targets. In the sustained attention task, sudden-onset cues presented immediately before each stimulus improved overall perceptual sensitivity while predictable timing cues attenuated the decline in perceptual sensitivity over time. Attentional cues did not improve response inhibition performance. Finally, performance on the most challenging versions of the sustained attention and response inhibition tasks did not improve with repeated task practice, indicating the suitability of these tasks as outcome measures of the effects of attention training.

The experiments in Chapters 3 and 4 describe the effects of intensive meditation training on vigilance. Training (∼5 hours/day for 3 months) consisted of a meditation practice that entailed learning to regulate and control voluntary attention by sustaining attention selectively on a chosen stimulus (e.g., the breath). Participants were randomly assigned either to receive training first (N = 30) or to serve as wait-list controls and receive training second (N = 30). Training produced improvements in visual discrimination which led to increases in perceptual sensitivity and reductions in the vigilance decrement during the sustained attention task. Training also produced increases in response inhibition accuracy without concomitant slowing of reaction time. Finally, improvements in discrimination and response inhibition were maintained several months after the completion of formal training, indicating enduring changes in behavior.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Mangun, George R.
Commitee: Luck, Steven J., Saron, Clifford D., Shaver, Phillip R.
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 70/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cognitive psychology
Keywords: Attention, Meditation, Perception, Plasticity, Response inhibition, Vigilance, Vision
Publication Number: 3379639
ISBN: 978-1-109-48743-5
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