Does meditation improve attention?
The problem with attention is that it naturally likes to jump around from one thing to another: attention is antsy, it won’t settle — this is not in itself a bad thing, just the way it is. Attention’s fidgety nature can be clearly seen in the phenomenon of ‘binocular rivalry’. If you show one picture to one eye and a different picture to the other eye, attention shuttles between them, wondering which is more interesting.
A simple lab version of this presents a set of vertical lines to one eye and a set of horizontal lines to the other. What people see is the brain flipping between the horizontal and the vertical lines and occasionally merging them both together, seemingly at random. People usually find it difficult to see either the horizontal or the vertical lines — or even the merged version — for an extended period because attention naturally flicks between them.
The results were even more dramatic when the Buddhists carried out the one-point meditation while looking through the goggles. Some of the most experienced monks reported complete image stability: they saw just the horizontal or vertical lines for a full 5 minutes. When compared to people who do not meditate, these results are exceptional.