Sustained attention is a fundamental ability ensuring effective cognitive processing and can be enhanced by meditation practice. However, keeping a focused meditative state is challenging for novices because involuntary mind-wandering frequently occurs during their practice. Inspired by the potential of force-control tasks in invoking internal somatic attention, we proposed a haptics-assisted meditation (HAM) to help reduce mind-wandering and enhance attention. During HAM, participants were instructed to maintain awareness on the respiration and meanwhile adjust bimanual fingertip pressures to keep synchronized with the respiration. This paradigm required somatosensory attention as a physiological foundation, aiming to help novices meditate starting with the body and gradually gain essential meditation skills. A cross-sectional study on 12 novices indicated that the participants reported less mind-wandering during HAM compared with the classic breath-counting meditation (BCM). In a further longitudinal study, the experimental group with 10 novices showed significantly improved performance in several attentional tests after 5 days’ practice of HAM. They tended to show more significant improvements in a few tests than did the control group performing the 5-day BCM practice. To investigate the brain activities related to HAM, we applied functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to record cerebral hemodynamic responses from the prefrontal and sensorimotor cortices when performing HAM, and we assessed the changes in cerebral activation and functional connectivity (FC) after the 5-day HAM practice. The prefrontal and sensorimotor regions demonstrated a uniform activation when performing HAM, and there was a significant increase in the right prefrontal activation after the practice. We also observed significant changes in the FC between the brain regions related to the attention networks. These behavioral and neural findings together provided preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of HAM on attention enhancement in the early stage of meditation learning.
- cognitive improvement
- fingertip pressure
- functional near-infrared spectroscopy
- sustained attention