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Emotion. 2012 Jun;12(3):650-8. doi: 10.1037/a0027472. Epub 2012 Apr 16.

Meditation and the startle response: a case study.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA.


The effects of two kinds of meditation (open presence and focused) on the facial and physiological aspects of the defensive response to an aversive startle stimulus were studied in a Buddhist monk with approximately 40 years of meditation experience. The participant was exposed to a 115-db, 100-ms acoustic startle stimulus under the 2 meditation conditions, a distraction condition (to control for cognitive and attentional load) and an unanticipated condition (startle presented without warning or instruction). A completely counterbalanced 24-trial, single-subject design was used, with each condition repeated 6 times. Most aspects of the participant's responses in the unanticipated condition did not differ from those of a comparison group of 12 age-matched male controls. Both kinds of meditation produced physiological and facial responses to the startle that were smaller than in the distraction condition. Within meditation conditions, open presence meditation produced smaller physiological and facial responses than focused meditation. These results from a single highly expert meditator indicate that these 2 kinds of meditation can differentially alter the magnitude of a primitive defensive response.

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