Quite often you will be skimming a book or leafing through pages of your favorite magazine and you will recall having “seen” a specific word. However, you will not remember having read that page or section or having looked at that particular word. But, without fail, when you retrace your steps and look back you will find that specific word, that word that you did not consciously “see”. So, what’s going on?
MEDITATION increases our ability to tap into the hidden recesses of our brain that are usually outside the reach of our conscious awareness.
That’s according to Madelijn Strick of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues, who tested whether meditation has an effect on our ability to pick up subliminal messages.
The brain registers subliminal messages, but we are often unable to recall them consciously. To investigate, the team recruited 34 experienced practitioners of Zen meditation and randomly assigned them to either a meditation group or a control group. The meditation group was asked to meditate for 20 minutes in a session led by a professional Zen master. The control group was asked to merely relax for 20 minutes.
The volunteers were then asked 20 questions, each with three or four correct answers – for instance: “Name one of the four seasons”. Just before the subjects saw the question on a computer screen one potential answer – such as “spring” – flashed up for a subliminal 16 milliseconds.
The meditation group gave 6.8 answers, on average, that matched the subliminal words, whereas the control group gave just 4.9 (Consciousness and Cognition, DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2012.02.010).
Strick thinks that the explanation lies in the difference between what the brain is paying attention to and what we are conscious of. Meditators are potentially accessing more of what the brain has paid attention to than non-meditators, she says.
“It is a truly exciting development that the second wave of rigorous, scientific meditation research is now yielding concrete results,” says Thomas Metzinger, at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. “Meditation may be best seen as a process that literally expands the space of conscious experience.”