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Investigating first-person experiences during different types of meditation: Towards a neurophenomenological approach in contemplative studies

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Przyrembel,  Marisa
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Singer,  Tania
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Przyrembel, M., & Singer, T. (2014). Investigating first-person experiences during different types of meditation: Towards a neurophenomenological approach in contemplative studies. Poster presented at International Symposium for Contemplative Studies (ISCS) of the Mind & Life Institute, Boston, MA, USA.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-A346-5
Abstract
The growing scientific interest in contemplative practices has called for new phenomenological approaches, but many investigators have been hesitant to conduct such qualitative research. Until today, quantitative methodologies capturing the effects of meditation on brain, behavior, and well-being have dominated, even though the core conceptions of mental training (e.g., mindfulness, emotion regulation, self-perception) are by definition subjective experiences. So how does it feel from a first-person perspective to engage in different kinds of meditation practice? To tackle this question, we used elicitation interviews as a qualitative method to compare the differential nature of different meditation techniques in the context of the ReSource Project, a multimethod, longitudinal mental-training study. More specifically, 20 subjects gave elicitation interviews on the following three types of meditation: (1) attention to breath; (2) observation of thought, and (3) loving-kindness. Preliminary qualitative analysis of these 60 audio- and video-recorded transliterated interviews clearly indicates differences concerning aspects of first-person experiences during different types of meditation. For example, attention to breath activates bodily sensations around nose/abdomen; observation of thought, in/around the head; and lovingkindness, in the chest. Further, during attention to breath and observation of thought, the subjective temperature sensations are described as neutral, while lovingkindness meditation is accompanied with the sensation of warmth. These qualitative analyses are supplemented by computer-based quantitative analyses of the transcripts using LIWC, providing evidence for differential experiences underlying the meditation technique. For example, in the interviews on lovingkindness meditation, participants express themselves in a way that is coded as more social, communicative, and optimistic.