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Marcia Grabowecky, Laura Ortega, Chika Nwosu, Satoru Suzuki, Eric Smith, Laiah Factor; The Emotional Blink in Novice Meditators. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):114. doi: 10.1167/11.11.114.
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Attention and emotion are linked in critical ways. Emotionally salient objects attract and capture attention. Attention to emotional stimuli influences emotion processing and regulation. Meditation techniques have been used for millennia both to train attention and to regulate emotion. A common meditation practice involves sustained attention on the breath. Slagter and colleagues (2007, PLoSBiology) showed improved performance and concomitant brain potential effects during an attentional blink task in experienced meditators after a 3-month meditation retreat. We ran an “emotional blink” task with novice attention-to-breath Zen meditators and students without meditation experience. Twelve targets consisted of 3 different male faces expressing neutral, happy, angry, or sad emotions. Two faces, always differing in identity, were targets (T1 and T2). Both were neutral (the control), or T1 was emotional and T2 neutral, or T1 was neutral and T2 emotional. Distractors were different male neutral faces shown inverted. Participants identified the two upright faces in the RSVP stream by selecting them from the set of faces after each trial. Overall performance was superior in meditators compared to controls, whereas attentional-blink magnitude was similar for the two groups. In addition, when T1 was emotional, T1 performance improved relative to neutral for both groups; T2 performance deteriorated for meditators, but not for controls. In contrast, when T1 was neutral and T2 emotional, T1 performance did not differ from the neutral baseline for meditators, but was impaired for controls, possibly due to distraction from the emotional T2 face. T2 performance improved for both groups but more so for meditators than controls. For these students, meditation experience improved their attention to the task, and also heightened their perception of emotional faces, but did not allow them to disengage from those emotions more efficiently.
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