- Meditation increases the depth of information processing (2012)
- During meditation, practitioners are required to center their attention on a specific object for extended periods of time. When their thoughts get diverted, they learn to quickly disengage from the distracter. We hypothesized that learning to respond to the dual demand of engaging attention on specific objects and disengaging quickly from distracters enhances the efficiency by which meditation practitioners can allocate attention. We tested this hypothesis in a global-to-local task while measuring electroencephalographic activity from a group of eight highly trained Buddhist monks and nuns and a group of eight age and education matched controls with no previous meditation experience. Specifically, we investigated the effect of attentional training on the global precedence effect, i.e., faster detection of targets on a global than on a local level. We expected to find a reduced global precedence effect in meditation practitioners but not in controls, reflecting that meditators can more quickly disengage their attention from the dominant global level. Analysis of reaction times confirmed this prediction. To investigate the underlying changes in brain activity and their time course, we analyzed event-related potentials. Meditators showed an enhanced ability to select the respective target level, as reflected by enhanced processing of target level information. In contrast with control group, which showed a local target selection effect only in the P1 and a global target selection effect in the P3 component, meditators showed effects of local information processing in the P1, N2, and P3 and of global processing for the N1, N2, and P3. Thus, meditators seem to display enhanced depth of processing. In addition, meditation altered the uptake of information such that meditators selected target level information earlier in the processing sequence than controls. In a longitudinal experiment, we could replicate the behavioral effects, suggesting that meditation modulates attention already after a 4-day meditation retreat. Together, these results suggest that practicing meditation enhances the speed with which attention can be allocated and relocated, thus increasing the depth of information processing and reducing response latency.
- Neural synchrony in cortical networks: history, concept and current status (2009)
- Following the discovery of context-dependent synchronization of oscillatory neuronal responses in the visual system, the role of neural synchrony in cortical networks has been expanded to provide a general mechanism for the coordination of distributed neural activity patterns. In the current paper, we present an update of the status of this hypothesis through summarizing recent results from our laboratory that suggest important new insights regarding the mechanisms, function and relevance of this phenomenon. In the first part, we present recent results derived from animal experiments and mathematical simulations that provide novel explanations and mechanisms for zero and nero-zero phase lag synchronization. In the second part, we shall discuss the role of neural synchrony for expectancy during perceptual organization and its role in conscious experience. This will be followed by evidence that indicates that in addition to supporting conscious cognition, neural synchrony is abnormal in major brain disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. We conclude this paper with suggestions for further research as well as with critical issues that need to be addressed in future studies.
- Untangling perceptual memory: hysteresis and adaptation map into separate cortical networks (2012)
- Perception is an active inferential process in which prior knowledge is combined with sensory input, the result of which determines the contents of awareness. Accordingly, previous experience is known to help the brain “decide” what to perceive. However, a critical aspect that has not been addressed is that previous experience can exert 2 opposing effects on perception: An attractive effect, sensitizing the brain to perceive the same again (hysteresis), or a repulsive effect, making it more likely to perceive something else (adaptation). We used functional magnetic resonance imaging and modeling to elucidate how the brain entertains these 2 opposing processes, and what determines the direction of such experience-dependent perceptual effects. We found that although affecting our perception concurrently, hysteresis and adaptation map into distinct cortical networks: a widespread network of higher-order visual and fronto-parietal areas was involved in perceptual stabilization, while adaptation was confined to early visual areas. This areal and hierarchical segregation may explain how the brain maintains the balance between exploiting redundancies and staying sensitive to new information. We provide a Bayesian model that accounts for the coexistence of hysteresis and adaptation by separating their causes into 2 distinct terms: Hysteresis alters the prior, whereas adaptation changes the sensory evidence (the likelihood function).