Skip to main content

Short-Term Training in Loving-Kindness Meditation Produces a State, But Not a Trait, Alteration of Attention

Abstract

While mindfulness meditation has been associated with enhanced attentional abilities, the consequences of loving-kindness meditation for attention have not previously been investigated. We examined the trait and state effects of 8 weeks of training in loving-kindness meditation (LKM) on the attentional blink. The attentional blink is a period of time in which a target stimulus is less likely to be detected if it follows too quickly (approximately 500 ms) after a previously detected target. For the two experiments reported here, a group of participants trained in LKM by meditating for approximately 15 min per day, four days per week, for 8 weeks. Experiment 1 utilized a pre-post design, with a non-meditating control group, to examine whether this training reduced the attentional blink. No differences were found. However, in an exploratory analysis, meditators did exhibit increases in two facets of mindfulness measured by the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire: observation and descriptiveness. In experiment 2, we tested for a state effect of LKM by having trained meditators practice LKM immediately prior to the attentional blink task. Here, meditators had a significantly reduced blink size compared to control participants. To establish that this reduction was caused by the combination of LKM training with pre-task meditation, we analyzed the data in experiment 2 with respect to one of our previous works, which reported that the practice of LKM immediately prior to the attentional blink task in those without meditation training did not reduce the blink magnitude. This analysis also revealed a significant difference. Therefore, training in LKM, coupled with its practice immediately prior to an attention task, caused a state reduction in the attentional blink. These results are the first to demonstrate that LKM, an emotion-focused practice, influences cognitive processing.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  • Arend, I., Johnston, S., & Shapiro, K. (2006). Task-irrelevant visual motion and flicker attenuate the attentional blink. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13, 600–607.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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, 27–45.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baer, R., Smith, G. T., Lykins, E., Button, D., Krietemeyer, J., Sauer, S., et al. (2008). Construct validity of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in meditating and non-meditating samples. Assessment, 15(2), 329–342.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Barnhofer, T., Chittka, T., Nightingale, H., Cisser, C., & Crane, C. (2010). State effects of two forms of meditation on prefrontal EEG asymmetry in previously depressed individuals. Mindfulness, 1, 21–27. doi:10.1007/s12671-010-0004-7.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Basso, M. R., Schefft, B. K., Ris, M. D., & Dember, W. N. (1996). Mood and global-local visual processing. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 2, 249–255.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benet-Martinez, V., & John, O. P. (1998). Los Cinco Grandes across cultures and ethnic groups: multitrait multimethod analyses of the big five in Spanish and English. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 729–750.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Braun, J. (1998). Vision and attention: the role of training. Nature, 393, 424–425.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822–848.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burgard, M., & May, C. J. (2010). The effect of positive affect induction via metta meditation on the attentional blink. Journal for Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, 7(1), 8–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31, 23–33. doi:10.1007/s10865-007-9130-7.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carson, J. W., Keefe, F. J., Lynch, T. R., Carson, K. M., Goli, V., Fras, A. M., et al. (2006). Loving-kindness meditation for chronic low back pain. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 23(3), 287–304. doi:10.1177/0898010105277651.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carter, O. L., Presti, D. E., Callistemon, C., Ungerer, Y., Liu, G. B., & Pettigrew, J. D. (2001). Meditation alters perceptual rivalry in Tibetan Buddhist monks. Current Biology, 15(11), R412.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Compton, R., Wirtz, D., Pajoumand, G., Claus, E., & Heller, W. (2004). Association between positive affect and attentional shifting. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 28(6), 733–744.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Derryberry, D., & Tucker, D. M. (1994). Motivating the focus of attention. In P. M. Neidenthal & S. Kitayama (Eds.), The heart’s eye: emotional influences in perception and attention (pp. 167–196). San Diego: Academic.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dorjee, D. (2010). Kinds and dimensions of mindfulness: why it is important to distinguish them. Mindfulness, 1, 152–160. doi:10.1007/s1267-010-0016-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dreisbach, G., & Goschke, T. (2004). How positive affect modulates cognitive control: reduced perseveration at the cost of increased distractibility. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 30, 343–353.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ekman, P., Davidson, R., Ricard, M., & Wallace, A. (2005). Buddhist and psychological perspectives on emotions and well being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(2), 59–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredrickson, B. L., & Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion, 19(3), 313–332.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045–1062. doi:10.1037/a0013262.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gasper, K., & Clore, G. L. (2002). Attending to the big picture: mood and global versus local processing of visual information. Psychological Science, 13, 34–40.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720–724. doi:10.1037/a0013237.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Isen, A. M. (1987). Positive affect, cognitive processes, and social behavior. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 20, 203–253.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • James, W. (1918). The principles of psychology, Vol. 1. New York: Holt.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jefferies, L. N., Smilek, D., Eich, E., & Enns, J. T. (2008). Emotional valence and arousal interact in attentional control. Psychological Science, 19(3), 290–295.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • John, O. P., Donahue, E. M., & Kentle, R. L. (1991). The big five inventory–versions 4a and 54. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Personality and Social Research.

    Google Scholar 

  • John, O. P., Naumann, L. P., & Soto, C. J. (2008). Paradigm shift to the integrative big-five trait taxonomy: history, measurement, and conceptual issues. In O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: theory and research (pp. 114–158). New York: Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, D. P., Penn, D. L., Fredrickson, B. L., Meyer, P. S., Kring, A. M., & Brantley, M. (2009). Loving-kindness meditation to enhance recovery from negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 65(5), 499–509. doi:10.1002/jclp.20591.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Rawlings, N. B., Ricard, M., & Davidson, R. J. (2004). Long-term meditators self-induced high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. PNAS, 101(46), 16369–16373.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lutz, A., Brefczynski-Lewis, J., Johnstone, T., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: effects of meditative expertise. PLoS ONE, 3(3), e1897. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001897.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lutz, A., Slagter, H. A., Dunne, J., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(4), 163–169.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • MacLean, M. H., & Arnell, K. M. (2010). Personality predicts temporal attention costs in the attentional blink paradigm. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17, 556–562.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • MacLean, M., Arnell, K., & Busseri, M. (2010). Dispositional affect predicts temporal attention costs in the attentional blink paradigm. Cognition and Emotion, 24(8), 1431–1438.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., Tiller, W. A., Rein, G., & Watkins, A. D. (1995). The effects of emotions on short-term power spectrum analysis of heart rate variability. The American Journal of Cardiology, 76(14), 1089–1093.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCraty, R., Barrios-Choplin, B., Rozman, D., Atkinson, M., & Watkins, A. D. (1998). The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA, and cortisol. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 33(2), 151–170.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness, and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 176–186.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Olivers, C. N. L., & Nieuwenhuis, S. (2005). The beneficial effect of concurrent task-irrelevant mental activity on temporal attention. Psychological Science, 16, 265–269.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Olivers, C. N. L., & Nieuwenhuis, S. (2006). The beneficial effects of additional task load and positive affect on the attentional blink. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 32, 364–379.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pace, T. W. W., Negi, L. T., Adame, D. D., Cole, S. P., Sivilli, T. I., Brown, T. D., et al. (2009). Effect of compassion meditation on neuroendocrine, innate immune and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 34(1), 87–98. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.08.011.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Raymond, J. E., Shapiro, K. L., & Arnell, K. M. (1992). Temporary suppression of visual processing in an RSVP task: an attentional blink? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 18(3), 849–860.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rowe, G., Hirsh, J. B., & Anderson, A. K. (2007). Positive affect increases the breadth of attentional selection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(1), 383–388.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Salzberg, S. (1995). Loving-kindness: the revolutionary art of happiness. Boston: Shambhala.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shapiro, K. L., Arnell, K. M., & Raymond, J. E. (1997). The attentional blink. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 1(8), 291–296.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shapiro, S. L., Astin, J. A., Bishop, S. R., & Cordova, M. (2005). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for health care professionals: results from a randomized trial. International Journal of Stress Management, 12, 164–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shapiro, S. L., Warren Brown, K., & Biegel, G. M. (2007). Teaching self-care to caregivers: effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the mental health of therapists in training. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 1(2), 105–115.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Slagter, H. A., Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Francis, A. D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Davis, J. M., et al. (2007). Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PLoS Biology, 5(6), 0001–0008.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Srinivasan, N., Srivastava, P., Lohani, M., & Baijal, S. (2009). Focused and distributed attention. Progress in Brain Research, 176, 87–100. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(09)17606-9.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Taatgen, N. A., Juvina, I., Schipper, M., Borst, J. P., & Sander, M. (2009). Too much control can hurt: a threaded cognition model of the attentional blink. Cognitive Psychology, 59(1), 1–29.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Fan, Y., Feng, H., Wang, J., Feng, S., et al. (2009). Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(22), 8865–8870.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tiller, W. A., McCraty, R., & Atkinson, M. (1996). Cardiac coherence: a new, noninvasive measure of autonomic nervous system order. Alternative Therapies, 2(1), 52–65.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tomarken, A., Davidson, R. J., Wheeler, R. E., & Doss, R. C. (1992). Individual differences in anterior brain asymmetry and fundamental dimensions of emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62(4), 676–687.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Leeuwen, S., Muller, N. G., & Melloni, L. (2009). Age effects on attentional blink performance in meditation. Consciousness and Cognition, 18(3), 593–599.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wallace, B. A., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). Mental balance and well-being: building bridges between Buddhism and western psychology. The American Psychologist, 61(7), 690–701.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ward, L. M. (2003). Synchronous neural oscillations and cognitive processes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(12), 553–559.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. U. (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.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zeiden, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 597–605.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christopher J. May.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

May, C.J., Burgard, M., Mena, M. et al. Short-Term Training in Loving-Kindness Meditation Produces a State, But Not a Trait, Alteration of Attention. Mindfulness 2, 143–153 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-011-0053-6

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-011-0053-6

Keywords

  • Meditation
  • Loving-kindness
  • Metta
  • Attentional blink
  • Mindfulness