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: Dinosaur-times cockroach caught in amber, from Myanmar

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Dinosaur-times cockroach caught in amber, from Myanmar

May 01, 2015

Geologica Carpathica has a paper on a new family of predatory cockroaches. Predatory? The authors, Peter Vrsansky and Günter Bechly, from the Slovak Republic and Germany, respectively, said that "unique adapta ...

Auditors: National Science Foundation suspends UConn grants

May 01, 2015

The National Science Foundation has frozen more than $2 million in grants to the University of Connecticut after a foundation investigation found two professors used grant money to buy products from their own company, Connecticut ...

Study indicates housing market cycles have become longer

May 01, 2015

A statistical analysis of data from 20 industrial countries covering the period 1970 to 2012 suggests housing market pricing cycles—normal, boom and bust phases—have become longer over the last four decades.

Good things in store for retailers

May 01, 2015

Shopping online or in catalogs is great for many reasons: to while away time on a snowy day; to avoid the holiday crush at the local mall; to do ultra-efficient comparison shopping; to enjoy a world of choice at your fingertips. ...

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.