Differential effects of non-dual and focused attention meditations on the formation of automatic perceptual habits in expert practitioners

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Abstract

Non-dual meditation aims to undo maladaptive cognitive and affective patterns by recognizing their constructed and transient nature. We previously found high-amplitude spontaneous gamma (25–40 Hz) oscillatory activity during such practice. Nonetheless, it is unclear how this meditation state differs from other practices, in terms of perceptual information processing. Here, we hypothesized that non-dual meditation can downregulate the automatic formation of perceptual habits. To investigate this hypothesis, we recorded EEG from expert Buddhist meditation practitioners and matched novices to measure two components of the auditory evoked response: the Mismatch Negativity (MMN) and the Late Frontal Negativity (LFN), a potential observed at a latency sensitive to attentional engagement to the auditory environment, during the practices of Open Presence (OP) and Focused Attention (FA), as well as during a control state, in the context of a passive oddball paradigm. We found an increase in gamma oscillatory power during both meditation states in expert practitioners and an interaction between states and groups in the amplitude of the MMN. A further investigation identified the specific interplay between the MMN and the LFN as a possible marker to differentiate the two meditation states as a function of expertise. In experts, the MMN increased during FA, compared to OP, while the opposite pattern was observed at the LFN latency. We propose that the state of OP in experts is characterized by increased sensory monitoring and reduced perceptual inferences compared to FA. This study represents a first attempt to describe the impact of non-dual meditation states on the regulation of automatic brain predictive processes.

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