Advertisement

The Effects of a 1-Month Meditation Retreat on Selective Attention Towards Emotional Faces: an Eye-Tracking Study

  • 152 Accesses

Abstract

Objectives

Retreats are a usual component of mindfulness practice. There is robust evidence in favor of their beneficial effects on mental health and mood regulation. Yet, there is much less evidence on changes in key psychological mechanisms associated with retreats. During retreats, participants engage in intensive meditation practices focused on training attention, which is one of the main components of meditation. The aim of the current study was to assess changes, associated with retreats, in attentional bias towards emotional stimuli using eye-tracking methodologies.

Methods

Participants were volunteers who attended a 1-month Vipassana retreat (N = 20) and a control group of meditators (N = 25) equivalent in age, gender, and years of experience in meditation, who did not attend the retreat. Gaze patterns exhibited towards emotional stimuli (i.e., pairs of happy-neutral, sad-neutral, and happy-sad faces) were assessed on two occasions. In the retreat group (RG), the assessment was conducted one day before starting the retreat and one day after ending it, whereas in the control group (CG), the two assessments were separated by a 1-month period.

Results

Regarding the maintenance of attention, results showed that the RG group had a significant reduction in the time spent looking at sad faces in the sad-neutral pairs of faces. In relation to deployment of attention, there was no significant change associated with the retreat or the passing of time.

Conclusions

These findings provide preliminary evidence that retreats may be effective at diminishing the salience of negative stimuli which, in turn, may be beneficial for emotional functioning.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Ainsworth, B., Eddershaw, R., Meron, D., Baldwin, D. S., & Garner, M. (2013). The effect of focused attention and open monitoring meditation on attention network function in healthy volunteers. Psychiatry Research, 210(3), 1226–1231. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2013.09.002.

  2. Armstrong, T., & Olatunji, B. O. (2012). Eye tracking of attention in the affective disorders: a meta-analytic review and synthesis. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(8), 704–723. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2012.09.004.

  3. Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1), 27–45. https://doi.org/10.1177/1073191105283504.

  4. Blanco, I., Serrano-Pedraza, I., & Vazquez, C. (2017). Don’t look at my teeth when I smile: teeth visibility in smiling faces affects emotionality ratings and gaze patterns. Emotion, 17(4), 640–647. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000260.

  5. Braboszcz, C., Cahn, B. R., Balakrishnan, B., Maturi, R. K., Grandchamp, R., & Delorme, A. (2013). Plasticity of visual attention in Isha yoga meditation practitioners before and after a 3-month retreat. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 914. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00914.

  6. Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H. S., Levinson, D. B., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(27), 11483–11488. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0606552104.

  7. Brown, D., Forte, M., & Dysart, M. (1984). Visual sensitivity and mindfulness meditation. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 58(3), 775–784. https://doi.org/10.2466/pms.1984.58.3.775.

  8. Calvo, M. G., & Avero, P. (2005). Time course of attentional bias to emotional scenes in anxiety: gaze direction and duration. Cognition & Emotion, 19(3), 433–451. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930441000157.

  9. Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., & Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(3), 303–322. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-007-9119-0.

  10. Chiesa, A., Calati, R., & Serretti, A. (2011). Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(3), 449–464. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.11.003.

  11. Colzato, L. S., van der Wel, P., Sellaro, R., & Hommel, B. (2016). A single bout of meditation biases cognitive control but not attentional focusing: evidence from the global-local task. Consciousness and Cognition, 39, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2015.11.003.

  12. Coronado-Montoya, S., Levis, A. W., Kwakkenbos, L., Steele, R. J., Turner, E. H., & Thombs, B. D. (2016). Reporting of positive results in randomized controlled trials of mindfulness-based mental health interventions. PLoS ONE, 11(4), e0153220. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153220.

  13. Dahl, C. J., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Reconstructing and deconstructing the self: cognitive mechanisms in meditation practice. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(9), 515–523. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.001.

  14. Davidson, R. J., & Kaszniak, A. W. (2015). Conceptual and methodological issues in research on mindfulness and meditation. American Psychologist, 70(7), 581–592. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039512.

  15. Desbordes, G., Gard, T., Hoge, E. A., Hölzel, B. K., Kerr, C., Lazar, S. W., et al. (2015). Moving beyond mindfulness: defining equanimity as an outcome measure in meditation and contemplative research. Mindfulness, 6(2), 356–372. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-013-0269-8.

  16. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71–75. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327752jpa4901_13.

  17. Duque, A., & Vazquez, C. (2015). Double attention bias for positive and negative emotional faces in clinical depression: evidence from an eye-tracking study. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 46, 107–114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2014.09.005.

  18. Elliott, J. C., Wallace, B. A., & Giesbrecht, B. (2014). A week-long meditation retreat decouples behavioral measures of the alerting and executive attention networks. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00069.

  19. Farb, N. A. S., Anderson, A. K., Irving, J. A., & Segal, Z. V. (2014). Mindfulness interventions and emotion regulation. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (2nd ed., pp. 548–567). New York: Guilford.

  20. Garland, E. L., Farb, N. A., Goldin, P., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2015). Mindfulness broadens awareness and builds eudaimonic meaning: a process model of mindful positive emotion regulation. Psychological Inquiry, 26(4), 293–314. https://doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2015.1064294.

  21. Goldberg, S. B., Wielgosz, J., Dahl, C., Schuyler, B., MacCoon, D. S., Rosenkranz, M., et al. (2016). Does the five facet mindfulness questionnaire measure what we think it does? Construct validity evidence from an active controlled randomized clinical trial. Psychological Assessment, 28(8), 1009–1014. https://doi.org/10.1037/pas0000233.

  22. Goldberg, S. B., Tucker, R. P., Greene, P. A., Simpson, T. L., Kearney, D. J., & Davidson, R. J. (2017). Is mindfulness research methodology improving over time? A systematic review. PLoS ONE, 12(10), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187298.

  23. Goldberg, S. B., Tucker, R. P., Greene, P. A., Davidson, R. J., Wampold, B. E., Kearney, D. J., & Simpson, T. L. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions for psychiatric disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 59, 52–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2017.10.011.

  24. Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M. S., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., et al. (2014). Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(3), 357. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018.

  25. Grafton, B., & MacLeod, C. (2017). A positive perspective on attentional bias: positive affectivity and attentional bias to positive information. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(4), 1029–1043. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-016-9761-x.

  26. Guendelman, S., Medeiros, S., & Rampes, H. (2017). Mindfulness and emotion regulation: insights from neurobiological, psychological, and clinical studies. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 220. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00220.

  27. Hair, J. F., Black, W. C., Babin, B. J., & Anderson, R. E. (2014). Examining your data. In J. F. Hair, W. C. Black, B. J. Babin, & R. E. Anderson (Eds.), Multivariate Data Analysis. Pearson: Essex.

  28. Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 537–559. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691611419671.

  29. Isaacowitz, D. M. (2006). Motivated gaze. The view from the gazer. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(2), 68–72. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0963-7214.2006.00409.x.

  30. Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 109–119. https://doi.org/10.3758/CABN.7.2.109.

  31. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 281–306. https://doi.org/10.1080/14639947.2011.564844.

  32. Khoury, B., Knäuper, B., Schlosser, M., Carrière, K., & Chiesa, A. (2017). Effectiveness of traditional meditation retreats: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 92, 16–25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2016.11.006.

  33. King, B. G., Conklin, Q. A., Zanesco, A. P., & Saron, C. D. (2019). Residential meditation retreats: their role in contemplative practice and significance for psychological research. Current Opinion in Psychology, 28, 238–244. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2018.12.021.

  34. Kozasa, E. H., Lacerda, S. S., Menezes, C., Wallace, B. A., Radvany, J., Mello, L. E. A. M., & Sato, J. R. (2015). Effects of a 9-day Shamatha buddhist meditation retreat on attention, mindfulness and self-compassion in participants with a broad range of meditation experience. Mindfulness, 6(6), 1235–1241. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-015-0385-8.

  35. Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., & Cuthbert, B. N. (1997). Motivated attention: affect, activation, and action. In P. J. Lang, R. F. Simons, & M. T. Balaban (Eds.), Attention and orienting: Sensory and motivational processes (pp. 97–135). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

  36. Lewis, E. J., Blanco, I., Raila, H., & Joormann, J. (2019). Does repetitive negative thinking affect attention? Differential effects of worry and rumination on attention to emotional stimuli. Emotion. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000535.

  37. Lippelt, D. P., Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2014). Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity - a review. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1–5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01083.

  38. Lundqvist, D., Flykt, A., & Öhman, A. (1998). The Karolinska directed emotional faces - KDEF. CD ROM from Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Psychology section. ISBN: 91-630-7164-9.

  39. Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163–169. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2008.01.005.

  40. MacLean, K. A., Ferrer, E., Aichele, S. R., Bridwell, D. A., Zanesco, A. P., Jacobs, T. L., et al. (2010). Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention. Psychological Science, 21(6), 829–839. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797610371339.

  41. Malinowski, P. (2013). Neural mechanisms of attentional control in mindfulness meditation. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2013.00008.

  42. Manicavasagar, V., Horswood, D., Burckhardt, R., Lum, A., Hadzi-Pavlovic, D., & Parker, G. (2014). Feasibility and effectiveness of a web-based positive psychology program for youth mental health: randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(6), e140. https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.3176.

  43. Moher, D., Hopewell, S., Schulz, K. F., Montori, V., Gøtzsche, P. C., Devereaux, P. J., et al. (2012). CONSORT 2010 explanation and elaboration: Updated guidelines for reporting parallel group randomised trials. International Journal of Surgery, 10(1), 28–55. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijsu.2011.10.001.

  44. Montero-Marin, J., Puebla-Guedea, M., Herrera-Mercadal, P., Cebolla, A., Soler, J., Demarzo, M., et al. (2016). Psychological effects of a 1-month meditation retreat on experienced meditators: the role of non-attachment. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1935. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01935.

  45. Pavlov, S. V., Korenyok, V. V., Reva, N. V., Tumyalis, A. V., Loktev, K. V., & Aftanas, L. I. (2015). Effects of long-term meditation practice on attentional biases towards emotional faces: an eye-tracking study. Cognition & Emotion, 29(5), 807–815. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2014.945903.

  46. Raila, H., Scholl, B. J., & Gruber, J. (2015). Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses: people who are happy and satisfied with life preferentially attend to positive stimuli. Emotion, 15(4), 449–462. http://doi.org/. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000049.

  47. Rosenberg, E. L., Zanesco, A. P., King, B. G., Aichele, S. R., Jacobs, T. L., Bridwell, D. A., et al. (2015). Intensive meditation training influences emotional responses to suffering. Emotion, 15(6), 775–790. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000080.

  48. Sanchez, A., & Vazquez, C. (2014). Looking at the eyes of happiness: positive emotions mediate the influence of life satisfaction on attention to happy faces. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(5), 435–448. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.910827.

  49. Sanchez, A., Vazquez, C., Marker, C., Lemoult, J., & Joormann, J. (2013). Attentional disengagement predicts stress recovery in depression: an eye-tracking study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122(2), 303–313. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031529.

  50. Sanchez, A., Vazquez, C., Gomez, D., & Joormann, J. (2014). Gaze-fixation to happy faces predicts mood repair after a negative mood induction. Emotion, 14(1), 85–94. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034500.

  51. Segal, Z. V., Kennedy, S., Gemar, M., Hood, K., Pedersen, R., & Buis, T. (2006). Cognitive reactivity to sad mood provocation and the prediction of depressive relapse. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(7), 749. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.63.7.749.

  52. Shane, M. S., & Peterson, J. B. (2007). An evaluation of early and late stage attentional processing of positive and negative information in dysphoria. Cognition and Emotion, 21(4), 789–815. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930600843197.

  53. Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Francis, A. D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Davis, J. M., & Davidson, R. J. (2007). Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PLoS Biology, 5(6), 1228–1235. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050138.

  54. Van Dam, N. T., van Vugt, M. K., Vago, D. R., Schmalzl, L., Saron, C. D., Olendzki, A., et al. (2018). Reiterated concerns and further challenges for mindfulness and meditation research: a reply to Davidson and Dahl. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(1), 66–69. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617727529.

  55. van den Hurk, P. A. M., Giommi, F., Gielen, S. C., Speckens, A. E. M., & Barendregt, H. P. (2010). Greater efficiency in attentional processing related to mindfulness meditation. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63(6), 1168–1180. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470210903249365.

  56. Wadlinger, H. A., & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2008). Looking happy: the experimental manipulation of a positive visual attention bias. Emotion, 8(1), 121–126. https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.8.1.121.

  57. Wallace, B. A., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). Mental balance and well-being: building bridges between Buddhism and Western psychology. American Psychologist, 61(7), 690–701. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.61.7.690.

  58. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063–1070. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.54.6.1063.

  59. Wösten, T. (2018). Vipassana meditation retreat: motivations, experiences and perceived effects of participants (Master’s thesis, University of Twente). Available at: https://essay.utwente.nl/74988/1/W%C3%B6sten_MA_BMS.pdf.

  60. Zanesco, A. P., King, B., MacLean, K., & Saron, C. D. (2013). Executive control and felt concentrative engagement following intensive meditation training. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 566. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00566.

  61. Zanesco, A. P., King, B. G., MacLean, K. A., & Saron, C. D. (2018). Cognitive aging and long-term maintenance of attentional improvements following meditation training. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 2, 259–275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-018-0068-1.

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors want to thank all the participants for their generous contribution of time, Fernando Rodríguez-Bornaetxea for organizing the retreat and providing a detailed description of the retreat components, Javier Garcia-Campayo for his help during the organization of the retreatants’ assessment, and Vipassana master Dhiravamsa for guiding the retreat. Special thanks to Nikoletta Stanja and Natalia Poyato for helping in data gathering. We also thank Rosaria Maria Zangri for helping us to edit the manuscript.

Funding Information

This research was partially supported by grants from the Spanish Ministry of Economy (MINECO) (PSI2015-69253-R, PSI2014-61764-EXPLORA) to CV and IB (BES-2013-064936), the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (FPU12/02342) to TP, and Real Colegio Complutense at Harvard/Santander Bank to PR (CT27/16-CT28/16).

Author information

IB: designed and executed the study, assisted with the data analyses, and wrote the paper. PR: collaborated with the design and writing of the study. AD: designed the experimental tasks, analyzed the data, and wrote part of the results. TP: collaborated with the design, execution, and writing of the study. CV: designed the study and collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Correspondence to Carmelo Vazquez.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All participants were informed and gave their consent before participating in the study.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This investigation was approved by the Ethics Committee of Complutense University of Madrid (School of Psychology).

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Blanco, I., Roca, P., Duque, A. et al. The Effects of a 1-Month Meditation Retreat on Selective Attention Towards Emotional Faces: an Eye-Tracking Study. Mindfulness 11, 219–229 (2020) doi:10.1007/s12671-019-01247-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • Retreat
  • Meditation
  • Attention
  • Emotional faces
  • Attentional bias