Tibetan monks yield clues to brain's regulation of attention

Jun 07, 2005
Tibetan monks yield clues to brain's regulation of attention

University of Queensland researchers have teamed up with Tibetan Buddhist monks to uncover clues to how meditation can affect perception.
Olivia Carter and Professor Jack Pettigrew from UQ’s Vision, Touch and Hearing Research Centre, as well as colleagues from the University of California Berkeley, found evidence that skills developed by the monks during meditation can strongly influence attention and consciousness.
With the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 76 monks participated in the study, which was carried out at or near their mountain retreats in the Himalaya, Zanskar and Ladakhi Ranges of India.

Ms Carter said the study was aimed at gaining an insight into how visual perception is regulated within the brain.

She said the research investigated the extent that certain types of trained meditative practice can influence the conscious experience of visual perceptual rivalry, which is what happens when someone has two different images shown to each eye, or is shown an ambiguous image such as a picture that can look like two faces or a vase.

"Typically this results in a switching between the two images, but in the case of one type of meditation, the monks reported a perceptual dominance of one of the images," Ms Carter said.

The researchers tested the experience of visual rivalry by monks during practice of two types of meditation: a "compassion"-oriented meditation, described as a contemplation of suffering within the world combined with an emanation of loving kindness, and "one-point" meditation, described as the maintained focus of attention on a single object or thought that leads to a stability and clarity of mind.

While no observable change in the rate of "visual switching" during rivalry was seen in monks practicing compassion meditation, major increases in the durations of perceptual dominance were experienced by monks practicing one-point meditation.

"Our findings suggest that processes particularly associated with one-point meditation, perhaps involving intense attentional focus and the ability to stabilize the mind, contribute to this ability of the monks," Ms Carter said.

She said the study showed individuals trained in meditation can considerably alter their perception.

The findings from the study were published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Current Biology.

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: How were fossil tracks made by Early Triassic swimming reptiles so well preserved?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

When performance comparisons spur risky behavior

24 minutes ago

When you're at work, there are two types of people you compete with: People with similar responsibilities at your own company, and rivals with similar duties at other companies. How do those different flavors ...

Predicting human crowds with statistical physics

Feb 27, 2015

For the first time researchers have directly measured a general law of how pedestrians interact in a crowd. This law can be used to create realistic crowds in virtual reality games and to make public spaces safer.

Bribery 'hits 1.6 billion people a year'

Feb 27, 2015

A total of 1.6 billion people worldwide – nearly a quarter of the global population – are forced to pay bribes to gain access to everyday public services, according to a new book by academics at the Universities of Birmingham ...

Broken windows thesis springs a leak

Feb 27, 2015

The broken windows theory posits that minor misdemeanors, like littering or graffiti spraying, stimulate more serious anti-social behavior. LMU sociologists now argue that the idea is flawed and does not ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.