Abstract

Cognitive flexibility is an important aspect relevant to daily life situations, and there is an increasing public interest to optimize these functions, for example, using (brief) meditation practices. However, the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms remain poorly understood. On the basis of theoretical considerations, both improvements and deteriorations of cognitive flexibility are possible through focused attention meditation (FAM). We investigated the effect of a brief smartphone app–based FAM on task switching using EEG methods, temporal signal decomposition, and source localization techniques (standardized low-resolution electromagnetic brain tomography). The study was conducted using a crossover study design. We show that even 15 min of FAM practicing modulates memory-based task switching, on a behavioral level and a neurophysiological level. More specifically, FAM hampers response selection and conflict resolution processes and seem to reduce cognitive resources, which are necessary to rapidly adapt to changing conditions. These effects are represented in the N2 and P3 time windows and associated with ACC. It seems that FAM increases the attention to one specific aspect, which may help to focus but carries also the risk that behavior becomes too rigid. FAM thus seems to modulate both the stimulus- and response-related aspects of conflict monitoring in ACC. Motor-related processes were not affected. The results can be explained using a cognitive control dilemma framework, suggesting that particularly alterations in background monitoring may be important to consider when explaining the effects of FAM during task switching.

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