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

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.

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

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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).

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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

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