States of focused attention and sequential action: A comparison of single session meditation and computerised attention task influences on top-down control during sequence learning
Motor sequence learning is considered the result of the outflow of information following cognitive control processes that are shared by other goal-directed behaviours. Emerging evidence suggests that focused-attention meditation (FAM) establishes states of enhanced cognitive control, that then exert top-down control biases in subsequent unrelated tasks. With respect to sequence learning, a single-session of FAM has been shown to entrain stimulus-dependent forms of sequential behaviour in meditation naïve individuals. In the present experiment, we compared single-session effects of FAM and a computerised attention task (CAT) to test if FAM-induced enhanced top-down control is generally comparable to cognitive tasks that require focused attention. We also investigated if effort, arousal or pleasure associated with FAM, or CAT explained the influence of these tasks on sequence learning. Relative to a rest-only control condition, both FAM and CAT resulted in shorter reaction time (RT) in a serial reaction time task (SRTT), and this enhanced RT performance was associated with higher reliance on stimulus-based planning as opposed to sequence representation formation. However, following FAM, a greater rate of improvement in RT performance was observed in comparison to both CAT and control conditions. Neither effort, arousal nor pleasure associated with FAM or CAT explained SRTT performance. These findings were interpreted to suggest that the effect of FAM states on increased top-down control during sequence learning is based on the focused attention control feature of this meditation. FAM states might be associated with enhanced cognitive control to promote the development of more efficient stimulus-response processing in comparison to states induced by other attentional tasks.