Goal-direct actions require integrating processing of stimuli and responses, which is why close stimulus-response bindings have to be created. However, the strength of these bindings can be modified. The metacontrol state model (MSM) hypothesizes that this can be achieved through mindfulness meditation. Yet, the cognitive processes underlying possible effects of meditation on S-R bindings remain unexplored.
We examined the effects of a brief bout of focused attention (FA) meditation on S-R bindings using a standard event file task measuring S-R bindings. This was done in a within-subject (crossover) design, where each participant (novice to meditation) was examined at two separate appointments (with and without meditation before the task).
We found that 15 min of a single bout of FA meditation was enough to restrict the retrieval of S-R bindings to relevant information as indexed by decreased partial overlap costs.
These findings support the MSM framework suggesting that FA meditation induces a top-down biasing of processes toward cognitive persistence. Importantly, however, the effects of FA meditation were only evident when there was prior experience with the task. This shows close similarities to effects in pharmacological and brain stimulation studies and suggests that FA meditation modulates gain control principles in information processing. Moreover, effects of FA meditation were restricted in its duration since FA meditation modulated the retrieval of S-R bindings only in the early phases of the event file task. In novices, effects of short-term FA meditation are thus relatively fragile and only induce some finer adjustments in processing strategy.