People who learn how to meditate using Buddhist techniques not only may find a bit of peace in life, but also can improve their attention and focus a new study shows.
Psychologist Katherine A. MacLean, PhD, and other researchers, signed up 30 people with an average age of 49 to go on a three-month meditation retreat in Colorado. Another 30 people in a comparison group went on a similar retreat.
The participants studied meditation techniques, such as concentrating on breathing, with Buddhist scholar and co-researcher B. Alan Wallace, PhD, of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies.
All participants were aficionados of meditation and had been on retreats before, but this time they were taught how to concentrate and asked to complete various tests. Also, volunteers attended group sessions twice daily and engaged in individual meditative practice for about six hours.
At three points during the retreat, the volunteers took a 30-minute computer test, during which they watched the screen as lines of various lengths flashed randomly in front of them. Most lines were the same length, but sometimes a shorter one would appear.
Volunteers were instructed to respond by clicking the computer mouse when a shorter line appeared in a test to measure their visual attention span and their ability to make distinctions.
Researchers say that as meditation training progressed, the volunteers who received meditation training got better at spotting the short lines compared to those who didn't receive the training, suggesting it became easier to sustain attention.