Researchers have found evidence that skills developed by Tibetan Buddhist monks in their practice of a certain type of meditation strongly influences their experience of "perceptual rivalry," dealing with attention and consciousness.
Perceptual rivalry arises when two different images are presented to each eye, and it is manifested as a fluctuation ~ typically over the course of seconds ~ in the "dominant" image that is consciously perceived. The neural events underlying perceptual rivalry are not well understood but are thought to involve brain mechanisms that regulate attention and conscious awareness.
Some previous work had suggested that skilled meditators can alter certain aspects of their brain's neural activity. To gain insight into how visual perception is regulated within the brain, researchers in the new study chose to investigate the extent to which certain types of trained meditative practice can influence the conscious experience of visual perceptual rivalry.
With the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 76 Tibetan Buddhist monks participated in the study, which was carried out at or near their mountain retreats in the Himalaya, Zanskar, and Ladakhi Ranges of India. The monks possessed meditative training ranging from 5 to 54 years.
Two Types of Meditation
The researchers tested the experience of visual rivalry by monks during the practice of two types of meditation:
- “Compassion"-oriented meditation, described as a contemplation of suffering within the world combined with an emanation of loving kindness.
- “One-point" meditation, described as the maintained focus of attention on a single object or thought, a focus that leads to a stability and clarity of mind.
Within this group, three monks reported complete visual stability during the entire five-minute meditation period. Increases in duration of perceptual dominance were also seen in other monks after a period of one-point meditation.
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