King's College London

Research portal

More meditation, less habituation? The effect of mindfulness practice on the acoustic startle reflex

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0123512
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalPL o S One
Volume10
Issue number5
Early online date6 May 2015
DOIs
Accepted/In press4 Mar 2015
E-pub ahead of print6 May 2015
Published6 May 2015

Documents

King's Authors

Abstract

Background

Mindfulness as a mode of sustained and receptive attention promotes openness to each incoming stimulus, even if repetitive and/or aversive. Mindful attention has been shown to attenuate sensory habituation in expert meditators; however, others were not able to replicate this effect. The present study used acoustic startle reflex to investigate the effect of mindfulness practice intensity on sensory habituation.

Methods

Auditory Startle Response (ASR) to 36 startling probes (12 trials x 3 block with 40ms inter-block intervals), was measured using electromyography (EMG) in three groups of participants (N = 12/group): meditation-naïve, moderate practice, and intensive practice.

Results

Intensive practice group showed attenuated startle habituation as evidenced by significantly less habituation over the entire experiment relative to the meditation-naïve and moderate practice groups. Furthermore, there was a significant linear effect showing between-block habituation in meditation-naïve and moderate practice groups, but not in the intensive practice group. However, the Block x Group interaction between the intensive practice and the meditation-naive groups was not significant. Moderate practice group was not significantly different from the meditation-naïve in the overall measure of habituation, but showed significantly stronger habituation than both meditation-naïve and intensive practice groups in Block 1. Greater practice intensity was significantly correlated with slower overall habituation and habituation rate in Blocks 2 and 3 in the intensive, but not in the moderate, practice group.

Conclusions

The study provides tentative evidence that intensive mindfulness practice attenuates acoustic startle habituation as measured by EMG, but the effect is modest. Moderate practice, on the other hand, appears to enhance habituation, suggesting the effect of mindfulness practice on startle habituation might be non-liner. Better understanding of the effect of mindful attention on startle habituation may shed new light on sensory information processing capacity of the human brain and its potential for de-automatisation of hard-wired processes.

Download statistics

No data available

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454