Respiratory Interoceptive Awareness Study (RIAS)

Attention to internal bodily sensations (interoception) is a core feature of mindfulness meditation. Previous studies have not been able to detect differences in interoceptive accuracy between meditators and non-meditators on heartbeat detection and perception tasks.

In the Respiratory Interoceptive Awareness Study (RIAS), we compared differences in respiratory interoceptive accuracy between meditators and non-meditators in the ability to detect and discriminate respiratory resistive loads close to the perception threshold and sustain accurate perception of respiratory tidal volume during non-distracted and distracted conditions (distraction by emotionally loaded videos).

Groups did not differ in overall performance on the detection and discrimination tasks; however, meditators were more accurate in discriminating the resistive load with the lowest ceiling effect. Meditators were also more accurate during the non-distracted tracking task at a lag time of one second following the breath. Results provide initial support for the notion that meditators have greater respiratory interoceptive accuracy compared to non-meditators.

Meditators focused their attention on breathing and train perception of subtle breath-related sensations. The study provided preliminary support for using an objective behavioral assessment that can be applied in meditation research to measure the capacity to detect subtle differences in airway resistance. This was the first study using such measure with meditators.

Following our research, our measure is currently being used in a NIH-funded study evaluating the effect of mindfulness meditation for patients with asthma. If that current study shows benefits from a meditation intervention, we would be able to determine whether one of the mechanisms of action is an improvement in awareness of subtle respiration-related sensations. That would give us insight in how to enhance a meditation intervention for asthma patients.

Publication in Psychophysiology: Follow your breath: Respiratory interoceptive accuracy in experienced meditators

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