Focused attention, open monitoring and automatic self-transcending: Categories to organize meditations from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions

Conscious Cogn. 2010 Dec;19(4):1110-8. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.01.007. Epub 2010 Feb 18.


This paper proposes a third meditation-category--automatic self-transcending--to extend the dichotomy of focused attention and open monitoring proposed by Lutz. Automatic self-transcending includes techniques designed to transcend their own activity. This contrasts with focused attention, which keeps attention focused on an object; and open monitoring, which keeps attention involved in the monitoring process. Each category was assigned EEG bands, based on reported brain patterns during mental tasks, and meditations were categorized based on their reported EEG. Focused attention, characterized by beta/gamma activity, included meditations from Tibetan Buddhist, Buddhist, and Chinese traditions. Open monitoring, characterized by theta activity, included meditations from Buddhist, Chinese, and Vedic traditions. Automatic self-transcending, characterized by alpha1 activity, included meditations from Vedic and Chinese traditions. Between categories, the included meditations differed in focus, subject/object relation, and procedures. These findings shed light on the common mistake of averaging meditations together to determine mechanisms or clinical effects.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Buddhism / psychology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Hinduism / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation / methods
  • Meditation / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Object Attachment
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Tibet