Hello all, hot off the press from Cliff: the long-awaited first study to emerge from The Shamatha Project: here (twenty more in the pipeline, apparently). For those of you (like me) who go a bit cross-eyed reading the science-speak, Cliff, the study's principle investigator, dashed off an email for me with his layman's summary of the study's findings here (drum roll please ... ):
Basically people's visual system changed and perception got more finely discriminating. That made differences between long and short lines pop out more after the retreat. This made the task easier - (we kept the short lines the same at the beginning and end of the 2nd retreat) and hence it was easier for determine long from short over the long time of the task. This shows up as better vigilance, less decrement in accuracy. To the extent people's perception improved, this measure of vigilance also improved. In the first retreat we did not see improvements in vigilance because we changed to short line to be at each person's perceptual threshold at each testing session. This resulted in the retreat group doing a harder task overall. It's of note that perceptual improvements were maintained at the follow-up testing if folks kept up a daily practice.
Or, in science speak:
Our results add to a growing body of evidence that medita-
tion training can improve aspects of attention (Lutz, Slagter,
Dunne, & Davidson, 2008), while specifically suggesting that
the enhanced sustained-attention ability that has been linked to
long-term meditation practice (Brefczynski-Lewis et al., 2007;
Valentine & Sweet, 1999) most likely reflects plasticity in the
adult brain. Our findings also add to reports of training-
induced improvements in other core cognitive processes, such
as working memory capacity and nonverbal intelligence (Jae-
ggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, & Perrig, 2008; Olesen, Westerberg,
& Klingberg, 2004). Together, these findings suggest that it is
possible to produce general improvements in mental function
that can benefit daily activities.