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Meditation has been associated with relatively reduced activity in the default mode network, a brain network implicated in self-related thinking and mind wandering. However, previous imaging studies have typically compared meditation to rest, despite other studies having reported differences in brain activation patterns between meditators and controls at rest. Moreover, rest is associated with a range of brain activation patterns across individuals that has only recently begun to be better characterized. Therefore, in this study we compared meditation to another active cognitive task, both to replicate the findings that meditation is associated with relatively reduced default mode network activity and to extend these findings by testing whether default mode activity was reduced during meditation, beyond the typical reductions observed during effortful tasks. In addition, prior studies had used small groups, whereas in the present study we tested these hypotheses in a larger group. The results indicated that meditation is associated with reduced activations in the default mode network, relative to an active task, for meditators as compared to controls. Regions of the default mode network showing a Group × Task interaction included the posterior cingulate/precuneus and anterior cingulate cortex. These findings replicate and extend prior work indicating that the suppression of default mode processing may represent a central neural process in long-term meditation, and they suggest that meditation leads to relatively reduced default mode processing beyond that observed during another active cognitive task.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity
beyond an active task
Kathleen A. Garrison
&Thomas A. Zeffiro
&Dustin Scheinost
&R. Todd Constable
Judson A. Brewer
#Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015
Abstract Meditation has been associated with relatively re-
duced activity in the default mode network, a brain network
implicated in self-related thinking and mind wandering. How-
ever, previous imaging studies have typically compared med-
itation to rest, despite other studies having reported differences
in brain activation patterns between meditators and controls at
rest. Moreover, rest is associated with a range of brain activa-
tion patterns across individuals that has only recently begun to
be better characterized. Therefore, in this study we compared
meditation to another active cognitive task, both to replicate
the findings that meditation is associated with relatively re-
duced default mode network activity and to extend these find-
ings by testing whether default mode activity was reduced
during meditation, beyond the typical reductions observed
during effortful tasks. In addition, prior studies had used small
groups, whereas in the present study we tested these hypoth-
eses in a larger group. The results indicated that meditation is
associated with reduced activations in the default mode net-
work, relative to an active task, for meditators as compared to
controls. Regions of the default mode network showing a
Group × Task interaction included the posterior cingulate/
precuneus and anterior cingulate cortex. These findings repli-
cate and extend prior work indicating that the suppression of
default mode processing may represent a central neural pro-
cess in long-term meditation, and they suggest that meditation
leads to relatively reduced default mode processing beyond
that observed during another active cognitive task.
Keywords Meditation .Default mode network .Mind
wandering .Self-related thinking
Meditation involves maintaining attention on immediate ex-
perience and away from distractions such as self-referential
thinking and mind wandering (Bishop et al., 2004). Consistent
with this idea, meditation has been associated with relatively
reduced activity in a network of brain regions implicated in
self-referential processing, known as the default mode net-
work (DMN), in experienced meditators relative to
nonmeditators (Brewer et al., 2011b). Likewise, mind wander-
ing has been associated with activity in the DMN (Mason
et al., 2007), and reduced DMN activity during meditation
has been associated with improved sustained attention outside
of the scanner (Pagnoni, 2012). These findings suggest a role
for reduced DMN processing during meditation.
Reduced DMN activity during meditation appears to be
consistent across different meditation practices. A recent
meta-analysis showed that DMN activity was consistently re-
duced during meditation, relative to control conditions, across
neuroimaging studies of meditation that involved either fo-
cused attention or the repetition of phrases (Tomasino,
Fregona, Skrap, & Fabbro, 2012). The same study by our
research group revealed that DMN activity was reduced in
meditators as compared to controls across three standard
mindfulness meditations: focused concentration, loving
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(doi:10.3758/s13415-015-0358-3) contains supplementary material,
which is available to authorized users.
*Judson A. Brewer
Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT,
Neurometrika, Potomac, MD, USA
Department of DiagnosticRadiology, Yale School of Medicine, New
Haven, CT, USA
Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical
School, 55 Lake Avenue North, Worcester, MA 01655, USA
Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
DOI 10.3758/s13415-015-0358-3
kindness, and choiceless awareness (Brewer et al., 2011b).
Determining that some neural mechanisms are common
across meditation practices may inform the generalizability
and potential clinical applications of these techniques.
The DMN has been found to be most highly active when
individuals are left to think to themselves undisturbed or dur-
ing tasks involving self-related processing, and less active
during tasks requiring cognitive effort (Buckner, Andrews-
Hanna, & Schacter, 2008; Raichle et al., 2001). This network
is composed of a midline core, including the anterior medial
prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus; a
dorsal medial prefrontal cortex subsystem including the tem-
poral pole, lateral temporal cortex, and temporoparietal junc-
tion; and a medial temporal lobe subsystem including the ven-
tral medial prefrontal cortex, posterior inferior parietal lobule,
retrosplenial cortex, parahippocampal complex, and hippo-
campal formation (Andrews-Hanna, Reidler, Sepulcre,
Poulin, & Buckner, 2010). Several of these brain regions,
including the angular gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, and
precuneus (Tomasino et al., 2012), have been shown across
neuroimaging studies to have relatively reduced activity dur-
ing meditation relative to control conditions, suggesting
that increased cognitive effort and decreased self-related
thinking are associated with meditation. In our prior
study meditators showed lower activity during medita-
tion than during rest in the posterior cingulate cortex
and precuneus, relative to controls (Brewer et al.,
2011b). Therefore, in the present study we aimed to
replicate this finding with a larger sample, given that
most neuroimaging studies of meditationin particular,
those involving experienced meditatorshave used
small groups (mean = 11.7, range = 431; Tomasino
et al., 2012).
Previous studies have also reported that meditators, rel-
ative to controls, show differences in DMN activity not
only during meditation, but also in functional connectivity
at rest (Brewer et al., 2011b; Jang et al., 2011). These
findings introduce a potential confound to studies of med-
itators that compare meditation to rest, because meditation
may transform the resting state into a more meditative
state. The choice of a control condition is a critical prob-
lem in cognitive neuroimaging studies and is fundamental
for interpreting changes in brain activation patterns
(Gusnard & Raichle, 2001;Marxetal.,2004). The resting
brain state is expected to be highly variable across indi-
viduals, and therefore may be a poorer choice for compar-
ison. To mitigate this confound, some studies have found
it useful to compare meditation to active control tasks,
such as mental arithmetic (e.g., Hölzel et al., 2007).
Therefore, in this study we aimed to compare meditation
to another active cognitive task, in order to test the hy-
pothesis that meditation leads to reduced activity in the
DMN beyond that found in another active cognitive task.
All participants provided written informed consent in accor-
dance with the Human Investigations Committee of the Yale
School of Medicine. A total of 20 experienced meditators and
26 nonmeditators (controls) took part in the study. Of these
participants, six meditators and three controls had participated
in our previous study (Brewer et al., 2011b). All results re-
ported here showed similar effects if the analyses were re-
stricted to the new participants only. The meditators were re-
cruited by advertisements and word of mouth and were all
from the Insight meditation (Theravada) tradition. They re-
ported a mean of 9,676 ± 1,586 practice hours over 14 ± 2
years, including daily practice and retreats. Controls reported
no prior meditation experience. The groups were matched on
sex, race, age, and years of education (Table 1).
fMRI protocol
Just before scanning, participants were instructed in three
standard mindfulness meditation practices (as in previous
studies: Brewer et al., 2011b; Gunaratana, 2002).
(a) Concentration:BPlease pay attention to the physical sen-
sation of the breath wherever you feel it most strongly in
the body. Follow the natural and spontaneous movement
of the breath, not trying to change it in any way. Just pay
attention to it. If you find that your attention has wan-
dered to something else, gently but firmly bring it back to
the physical sensation of the breath.^
(b) Loving kindness:BPlease think of a time when you gen-
uinely wished someone well (pause). Using this feeling
as a focus, silently wish all beings well, by repeating a
few short phrases of your choosing over and over. For
example: May all beings be happy, may all beings be
healthy, may all beings be safe from harm.^
(c) Choiceless awareness:BPlease pay attention to whatever
comes into your awareness, whether it is a thought, emo-
tion, or body sensation. Just follow it until something else
comes into your awareness, not trying to hold onto it or
change it in any way. When something else comes into
your awareness, just pay attention to it until the next
thing comes along.^
Participants practiced each meditation condition outside of
the scanner prior to fMRI and confirmed that they understood
and could follow the instructions.
Each run began with a 30-s eyes-open rest period, during
which participants were instructed to look at the fixation cross
and not think of anything in particular. This was followed by
an 8-s display of the instructions for the active cognitive task
Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
and by the 90-s active cognitive task itself. For the active task,
participants were asked to make judgments about adjectives in
response to a cue indicating that they should judge the word in
terms of Bself^(BDoes the word describe you?^)orBcase^
(BIs the word in uppercase letters?^) and to indicate Byes^or
Bno^using a button box (Kelley et al., 2002). Adjectives were
presented using E-Prime 1.2 (
2.5 s, with a 1- to 3-s interstimulus fixation interval for 30 trials
per run, for a total of 180 trials. A total of 60 unique adjectives
were drawn from the Anderson (1968) word list and were
counterbalanced for valence. Participants practiced the active
task to proficiency outside of the scanner prior to scanning. The
active task was followed by a 30-s eyes-closed rest period. The
eyes-closed condition was followed by a 30-s recorded medi-
tation instruction (as above) and by a 180-s meditation period.
At the end of the meditation period, subjects heard an audio
prompt to open their eyes and rest until the sound of the scan-
ner stopped, for an additional 20-s eyes-open rest period. Each
meditation condition was performed twice, for a total of six
runs. Meditation conditions were randomized, but the second
instance of each meditation was blocked (i.e., AABBCC). Af-
ter each run, participants were asked to rate how well they were
able to follow the instructions and how much their mind wan-
dered during meditation, on a scale from 0 to 10.
fMRI imaging parameters
Scanning was conducted using a Siemens 1.5-T Sonata MRI
(Siemens AG, Erlangen, Germany) with an eight-channel re-
ceive-only head coil. High-resolution T1-weighted 3-D ana-
tomical images were acquired using a magnetization-prepared
rapid gradient echo (MPRAGE) sequence (TR = 2,530 ms, TE
= 3.34 ms, field of view = 220 mm, matrix size = 192 × 192,
slice thickness = 1.2 mm, flip angle = 8°, 160 slices). Low-
resolution T1-weighted anatomical images were also acquired
(TR = 500 ms, TE = 11 ms, field of view = 220 mm, slice
thickness = 4 mm, gap = 1 mm, 25 ACPC-aligned axial
oblique slices). Functional image acquisition began at the
same slice location as in the T1 scan. Functional images were
acquired using a T2*-weighted gradient-recalled single-shot
echo-planar sequence (TR = 2,000 ms, TE = 35 ms, flip angle
= 90°, bandwidth = 1446 Hz/pixel, matrix size = 64× 64, field
of view = 220 mm, voxel size = 3.5 mm, interleaved, 210
volumes; two volumes were acquired at the beginning of the
run and discarded).
fMRI data preprocessing
Images were preprocessed using SPM8 (
uk/spm). The functional images were realigned for motion
correction, and the resultant parameters were used as
regressors of no interest in the fMRI model. In addition,
Artifact Detection Tools (ART;
artifact_detect) was used to identify global mean intensity
and motion outliers in the fMRI time series (outlier
thresholds: global signal > 3 standard deviations, motion > 1
mm). Any detected outliers were included as regressors of no
interest in the model. A generative model of tissue
classification, bias correction, and segmentation (Ashburner
& Friston, 2005) was used to estimate the spatial normaliza-
tion parameters to Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI)
space. The estimates were then applied to all structural and
functional images, and all images were smoothed using a 6-
mm full-width-at-half-maximum Gaussian kernel.
Although motion outliers were modeled as regressors of no
interest using ART, nonequivalent motion correction might
result in bias when modeling group differences. Therefore,
the mean outliers detected by ART across six runs were com-
pared between groups using an independent ttest. No signif-
icant difference in mean outliers was found between medita-
tors and controls (meditators = 45, SEM = 6.3; controls = 38,
SEM =5.8),t(44) = 0.79, p= .43. Outliers were detected in all
controls and in all but one meditator. Motion outliers in the
first and last runs (Runs 1 and 6) were compared between the
groups using a repeated measures analysis of variance. A sig-
nificant effect of time was found (F=4.34,p= .04), but no
Tabl e 1 Participant demographics
Meditators (n= 20) Controls (n=26) χ
Sex 0.03 .85
Male 11 55 15 55
Female 9 45 11 45
Race n/a n/a
White (Non-Hispanic) 20 100 26 100
Mean SD Mean SD t p
Age 45.6 11.1 42.2 13.3 0.92 .36
Years of education 17.6 4.8 17.2 3.0 0.36 .72
Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
significant Group × Time interaction (F=0.01,p= .91), such
that the mean motion outliers increased from Runs 1 to 6
comparably in meditators (Run 1 = 5.1, Run 6 = 7.8) and
controls (Run 1 = 5.9, Run 6 = 8.3).
fMRI data analysis
The blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal was
modeled using separate regressors for the conditions: active
task instructions, active task, meditation instructions, and
meditation task. Rest periods were combined to form the im-
plicit baseline. The meditation task included the three distinct
meditation practices collapsed as blocks for the analysis. The
active task included Bself,^Bcase,^and fixation trials col-
lapsed as blocks for the analysis. The conditions were
modeled using a boxcar function convolved with a canonical
hemodynamic response function, and the regressors were fit
using SPM8s implementation of the general linear model. To
accommodate the long mediation conditions, the high-pass
filter cutoff was 360 s. A first-level model was specified to
estimate the parameter for each condition for each subject. A
second-level model was specified to estimate the parameter
for the main effects of task (meditation, active task) and group
(meditation, control), and the interaction effect. A two-
by-two interaction effect was tested using a repeated
measures analysis of variance for groups (meditators,
controls) by tasks (meditation, active task) and was ex-
clusively masked with the group effect (meditation vs.
control), in order to show the voxels in which the in-
teraction was not driven by the main effect of group.
All findings were significant at p.05 family-wise
error (FWE) cluster-corrected, using a p.01 cluster-
forming threshold and an extent threshold of 250
voxels, unless a more conservative threshold was
The statistical analysis was conducted using SPSS 19 (http:// For participant
demographics, paired ttestswereusedtodetermine
differences between the groups in age, and χ
tests were
used to determine differences between the groups in sex.
Repeated measures analyses of variance were used to
determine differences between the groups in self-reported
mind wandering. For the active task, independent ttests were
used to compare reaction times between the groups, and χ
tests were used to compare error rates between the groups,
with an error defined as an incorrect response to Bcase^or
no response to Bself.^All statistical tests were two-tailed and
are reported as means ± standard deviations.
Behavioral results
In line with the assumption that meditators and controls per-
formed the active task similarly, no significant difference in
reaction times was found between meditators (1.25 ± 0.38 s)
and controls (1.26 ± 0.42 s), t=1.46,p= .15. Meditators made
significantly fewer errors in the Bcase^condition (1.7%) than
did controls (3.5%), χ
=13.2,p< .001, whereas no signifi-
cant difference was found in errors in the Bself^condition
between groups (meditators = 1.7%, controls = 1.3%), χ
1.1, p=.31.
As expected, meditators reported less mind wandering dur-
ing meditation than did controls, F(1, 44) = 7.57, p=.009.
This finding was apparent for concentration (controls, 4.5 ±
2.1; meditators, 3.5 ± 1.4), loving kindness (controls, 3.8 ±
1.8; meditators, 2.8 ± 1.4), and choicelessawareness (controls,
4.4 ± 2.3; meditators, 2.7 ± 1.6) meditation. Both meditators
and controls reported being able to follow the instructions to a
high degree for concentration (controls, 8.6 ± 1.4; meditators,
8.5 ± 1.4), loving kindness (controls, 8.6 ± 1.4; meditators, 8.8
± 1.2), and choiceless awareness (controls, 9.0 ± 1.4; medita-
tors, 8.9 ± 0.9) meditation. No effect of time was found on
mind wandering (meditators: Run 1, 3.0 ± 1.6; Run 6, 2.9 ±
2.0; controls: Run 1, 4.1 ± 2.0; Run 6, 4.3 ± 2.5), F(1, 44) =
0.003, p= .96, and likewise no Group × Time interaction was
found for mind wandering, F(1, 44) = 0.19, p= .67. Similarly,
no effect of time was found on the ability to follow instruc-
tions (meditators: Run 1, 8.7 ± 1.3; Run 6, 8.9 ± 1.4; controls:
Run 1, 8.6 ± 1.2; Run 6, 8.7 ± 1.6), F(1, 44) = 1.14, p=.29,
nor was a Group × Time interaction found for the ability to
follow instructions, F(1, 44) = 0.57, p=.45.
fMRI results
For meditators and controls combined, meditation was asso-
ciated with activity increases in the bilateral rectal gyrus and
orbitofrontal cortex, relative to the implicit baseline (Fig. 1top
left, Table 2). The same brain regions showed an activity de-
crease during the active task relative to the implicit baseline in
meditators and controls combined (Fig. 1bottom right,
Tab le 2).
A between-group difference was found for meditation in
comparison to the implicit baseline. Relative to controls, med-
itators showed reduced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex
and the dorsal and ventral precuneus/posterior cingulate cor-
tex during meditation, as compared to the implicit baseline
(Fig. 2, supplementary Fig. S1).
A significant Group (meditators, controls) × Task (medita-
tion, active task) interaction, exclusively masked by the effects
of group, was identified in the middle temporal gyrus, fusi-
form and hippocampal gyri, anterior cingulate cortex, and
Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
precuneus (Fig. 3, Table 3). Plots of the parameter estimates
for the anterior cingulate cortex and precuneus demonstrated
that activity in these brain regions decreased during medita-
tion and increased during the active control task in meditators,
whereas controls did not show this dissociation (Fig. 3,
In this study, meditation was found to be associated with rel-
atively lower activity in regions of the DMN in meditators
than in controls, as compared to during another active cogni-
tive task, indicated by a significant Group × Task interaction.
Fig. 1 Effects of task in the combined meditator and control groups.
Meditation, as compared to the implicit baseline, is associated with
activity increases bilaterally in the orbitofrontal cortex (top left). The
same areas show an activity decrease during the active task, as
compared to the implicit baseline (bottom right). Images are displayed
in neurological convention, with critical thresholds at p< .001,
uncorrected for multiple tests, to show the subthreshold extents of the
Tabl e 2 Brain region peaks showing increased activity with meditation
as compared to the implicit baseline in both meditators and controls
Side Label Peak p(FWE-corr) Peak Zx y z
L Rectal gyrus .00024 7.52 10 14 18
R Rectal gyrus .00024 7.08 14 28 22
L Orbitofrontal cortex .011 6.80 12 26 22
R Rectal gyrus .00020 6.29 6 26 20
R Orbitofrontal cortex .0055 6.28 16 16 18
L Orbitofrontal cortex .022 6.09 22 20 20
All peaks are significant at p< .05, FWE-corrected.
Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
Brain regions showing relatively reduced activity during med-
itation in meditators included the anterior cingulate cortex,
fusiform gyrus, middle temporal gyrus, and precuneus. Med-
itators also showed relatively lower activity in DMN regions
than did controls during meditation as compared to rest.
As we described above, the DMN is typically active during
task-free resting states (Raichle et al., 2001), and this activity
is thought to represent neural processing related to self-related
thinking or mind wandering (Buckner et al., 2008). The DMN
is further characterized by decreased activity during effortful,
goal-directed tasks (Fox et al., 2005; Greicius, Krasnow,
Reiss, & Menon, 2003). A recent meta-analysis reported that
neuroimaging studies of meditation consistently report re-
duced DMN activity during meditation relative to control con-
ditions in both meditators and nonmeditator controls
(Tomasino et al., 2012). Although the meta-analysis did not
find a difference in DMN activity associated with long-term
experience, our prior study did show reduced activity in re-
gions of the DMN during meditation relative to rest in expe-
rienced meditators compared with nonmeditators (Brewer
et al., 2011b). This study replicated the results of that
previous study in a larger sample (meditators, 20 vs. 12;
controls, 26 vs. 12).
However, functional connectivity in regions of the DMN, a
measure of the temporal correlation of the BOLD signal be-
tween these regions, has also been found to differ between
meditators and controls, not only during meditation but also
at rest (Brewer et al., 2011b; Pagnoni, 2012; Taylor et al.,
2013). This suggests that meditation training may alter the
behavioral state that individuals enter when given the standard
resting-state instructions. Meditators and controls appear to
differ in their resting-state DMN processing. Therefore, we
compared meditation to another active cognitive task. Other
studies have reported similar utility in comparing meditation
with an active task (e.g., Hölzel et al., 2007; Tomasino et al.,
2012). The present findings add to this work by providing
evidence that meditation is associated with relatively reduced
DMN activity during meditation as compared to a judgment-
Fig. 2 A between-group contrast of meditation versus the implicit base-
line revealed effects in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the dorsal
(dPCu) and ventral precuneus (vPCu)/posterior cingulate cortex (M =
meditators, C = controls). All three clusters are significant at p<.05
FWE-corrected, p.01 cluster-forming threshold, and extent threshold
250 voxels. Images are displayed in neurological convention, with critical
thresholds at p< .01, uncorrected for multiple tests, to show the sub-
threshold extents of the effects.
Fig. 3 A Group × Task interaction exclusively masked with the main
effect of group revealed effects in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and
the dorsal precuneus (PCu) across groups and task conditions. Both
clusters are significant at p< .05, FWE-corrected. Images are
displayed in neurological convention, with critical thresholds of p<
.01, uncorrected for multiple tests, to show the subthreshold extents of
the effects. MM, meditators meditating; MA, meditators performing
the active task; CM, controls meditating; CA, controls performing the
active task.
Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
of-adjectives task in meditators versus controls. This finding
suggests that meditation by experienced meditators leads to
relatively reduced activity in the DMN, beyond that expected
by general task-based deactivation.
Consistent with other prior findings (Kelley et al., 2002),
our controls showed a pattern of reduced precuneus/posterior
cingulate cortex activity during both the judgment-of-
adjectives task and the meditation task (see the parameter
estimate plots in the Figs. 2and 3insets). It is possible that
for controls, reduced activity in this hub of the DMN during
meditation and the active task reflects reduced self-related
processing and mind wandering during these tasks in compar-
ison with the implicit baseline, which was composed of rest-
ing periods. In support of this, task engagement has been
shown to reduce activity in the precuneus/posterior cingulate
cortex relative to rest (Fox et al., 2005). Other studies have
reported a high incidence of mind wandering in healthy indi-
viduals (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010; Whitfield-Gabrieli
et al., 2011) and a high incidence of precuneus/posterior cin-
gulate cortex activity associated with mind wandering
(Pagnoni, 2012). In contrast, meditators showed increased ac-
tivity in the precuneus during the judgment-of-adjectives task
(Fig. 2), possibly reflecting increased self-related processing
relative to the implicit baseline. This interpretation would be
consistent with our prior finding that meditators showed al-
tered DMN functional connectivity at rest as compared to
nonmeditators (Brewer et al., 2011b). Related to this, we used
real-time fMRI neurofeedback, in which individuals were pro-
vided with dynamic visual feedback about their ongoing brain
activity in real time, to demonstrate that the changes in activity
in the posterior cingulate cortex corresponded to experienced
meditatorssubjective reports of focused attention and mind
wandering (Garrison et al., 2013a;Garrisonetal.,2013b). The
present findings further suggest that long-term meditation ex-
perience may lead to changes in DMN activity beyond typical
task-engagement-related reductions, because meditators
showed reduced DMN activity during meditation not only as
compared to rest, but also as compared to another active cog-
nitive task. For meditators, this is consistent with the hypoth-
esis that meditation may reduce self-related thinking and mind
wandering more than does another active task.
This study has several limitations. The use of a mixed de-
sign and the comparison of task blocks of different lengths
may have reduced the designs efficiency. Comparing blocks
of different lengths can lead to poorer estimates of the shape of
the hemodynamic response to a given stimulus block (Wager,
Vazquez, Hernandez, & Noll, 2005). Block length was deter-
mined in consideration of both the task requirements and scan
time limitations. To improve statistical power, the event-
related active task (judgment of adjectives) was analyzed as
a block. This might have combined events that increased (e.g.,
Bself^) and decreased (e.g., Bcase^) DMN processing, thereby
reducing power to detect DMN changes during this active task
relative to meditation. Likewise, the meditation conditions
(concentration, loving kindness, and choiceless awareness)
were collapsed to improve power. This design could be opti-
mized to directly compare the components of the active task
and the different meditation practices in a future study. A
Tabl e 3 Brain regions identified by a Group (meditators, controls) × Task (meditation, active task) interaction
Side Label Cluster p(FWE-corr.) Cluster kPeak Z xyz
R Middle temporal gyrus .007 481 4.60 66 18 8
3.90 58 410
3.25 50 20 10
L Middle temporal gyrus 3.228E05 999 4.36 48 30 16
4.22 60 28 10
3.86 48 18 22
L Fusiform and hippocampal gyri .005 505 4.29 20 50 10
3.62 26 60 10
3.38 38 52 20
R Anterior cingulate cortex .01 458 4.09 12 44 12
3.94 10 40 26
3.51 6 44 36
R Middle temporal gyrus .0002 783 4.09 46 56 20
3.59 56 36 18
3.56 42 40 20
L Precuneus .0369 350 3.63 248 46
3.48 14 44 52
3.13 18 36 40
Cluster-forming threshold p< .005; extent threshold 250. All clusters are significant at p< .05, FWE-corrected.
Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
related limitation was that the meditation and active tasks were
not counterbalanced; the active task always preceded the med-
itation task. Although the fixed order was used to avoid spe-
cific effects of state-based meditation on brain activity patterns
during the active task, this approach did not account for po-
tential trait-based effects. Finally, interpretation of our results
is limited to meditation in the research setting. Traditional or
cultural meditation practices typically involve contextual
components, such as intentions for practice, background con-
ceptual beliefs, and the support of a community, among
others. In the present study, meditation was performed in an
fMRI scanner, and thus decontextualized. Despite these draw-
backs, since the meditators were long-term practitioners with
significant commitments to practice, we cannot rule out that
larger components of the practice or memory of other contexts
were active even during the decontextualized meditation
tasks. Due to these empirical differences, further studies will
be necessary to interpret our findings within the broader field
of meditation research. Overall, despite the design limitations,
this study showed reliable group differences in DMN activity
across the different experimental conditions.
These findings provide evidence that reduced DMN process-
ing may represent a central neural process in long-term medita-
tion. This may have clinical implications. Previous work sug-
gested that increased DMN activity may interfere with cognitive
performance and that decreased DMN activity is associated with
improved performance (for a review, see Anticevic et al., 2012).
Likewise, increased DMN activity has been associated with de-
pression (Sheline et al., 2009), anxiety (Zhao et al., 2007), and
addiction(Garavanetal.,2000), among other disorders. Mind
wandering and self-related processing contribute to ruminative
thinking, which may be a feature of these disorders and has also
been associated with decreased well-being (e.g., Killingsworth &
Gilbert, 2010). In contrast, meditation, which appears to be asso-
ciated with reduced activity in the DMN, has been shown to
improve attention and working memory performance (Pagnoni,
2012) and promote positive health outcomes (Keng, Smoski, &
Robins, 2011). Because mindfulness training has shown utility
for addiction (Brewer et al., 2011a), as well as for pain, anxiety,
and depression (Goyal et al., 2014), these studies together sug-
gest that the neural mechanism by which meditation results in
clinical benefits may be through reducing DMN activity.
Author note This work was supported by awards from the National
Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grant No. K12-
DA00167 to J.A.B... and K.A.G.); from the US Veterans Affairs New
England Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center; and
from the American Heart Association (Grant No. 14CRP18200010 to
K.A.G.), and by private donations from Jeffrey C. Walker, Austin Hearst,
and the 1440 Foundation. We thank our participants for their time and
effort, Joseph Goldstein and Ginny Morgan for input on the meditation
instructions, Hedy Kober for input on the study design, Thomas Thornhill
IV for study coordination, and Hedy Sarofin and the staff of the Yale
Magnetic Resonance Research Center for help with scanning.
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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci
... Mindfulness is a form of mental training that helps an individual learn to regulate their attention, emotions and mental processes while maintaining a relaxed, non-judgmental state of mind [57]. Various durations of mindfulness practice have been found to enhance ER capability, improve cognitive abilities and augment self-referential processing [58][59][60]. A growing body of evidence suggests that mindfulness interventions are efficacious in improving mood and treating depression [61,62]. ...
... While CCT is theorized to target cognitive deficits and brain networks that underlie them, such as the cognitive control network (CCN), mindfulness may target both cognition and ER, as well as neural networks thought to be implicated in depression, namely the default-mode network (DMN) [68][69][70][71]. Moreover, activity in the CCN and DMN is anticorrelated and differentially augmented by mindfulness and CCT [43,60,68,[72][73][74]. As such, the union of these two forms of training may act to target these networks and more rapidly improve depression. ...
... The practice of mindfulness meditation is a form of psychological training that augments the CCN and DMN as an individual learns to regulate the focus and quality of their attention [57,60,70,102,119,157]. Although both networks are activated during mindfulness meditation, in this section we first examine studies that assessed changes in the DMN alone, and then studies that assessed changes in both the DMN and CCN together. ...
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Depression is often associated with co-occurring neurocognitive deficits in executive function (EF), processing speed (PS) and emotion regulation (ER), which impact treatment response. Cognitive training targeting these capacities results in improved cognitive function and mood, demonstrating the relationship between cognition and affect, and shedding light on novel targets for cognitive-focused interventions. Computerized cognitive training (CCT) is one such new intervention, with evidence suggesting it may be effective as an adjunct treatment for depression. Parallel research suggests that mindfulness training improves depression via enhanced ER and augmentation of self-referential processes. CCT and mindfulness training both act on anti-correlated neural networks involved in EF and ER that are often dysregulated in depression—the cognitive control network (CCN) and default-mode network (DMN). After practicing CCT or mindfulness, downregulation of DMN activity and upregulation of CCN activity have been observed, associated with improvements in depression and cognition. As CCT is posited to improve depression via enhanced cognitive function and mindfulness via enhanced ER ability, the combination of both forms of training into mindfulness-enhanced CCT (MCCT) may act to improve depression more rapidly. MCCT is a biologically plausible adjunct intervention and theoretical model with the potential to further elucidate and target the causal mechanisms implicated in depressive symptomatology. As the combination of CCT and mindfulness has not yet been fully explored, this is an intriguing new frontier. The aims of this integrative review article are four-fold: (1) to briefly review the current evidence supporting the efficacy of CCT and mindfulness in improving depression; (2) to discuss the interrelated neural networks involved in depression, CCT and mindfulness; (3) to present a theoretical model demonstrating how MCCT may act to target these neural mechanisms; (4) to propose and discuss future directions for MCCT research for depression.
... Other research indicates that long-term meditation training may lead to altered resting functional connectivity and reduced activity within the default mode network (Berkovich-Ohana et al., 2014;Brewer, Worhunsky et al., 2011;Garrison et al., 2015). Moreover, in our own work with these same participants, we found retreat-related changes in dynamic patterns of resting EEG microstates . ...
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Humans have a remarkable capacity to feel and enact care for others. But this capacity is not universally expressed: decades of research have elucidated the contextual, social, cognitive-affective, and relational factors that limit the tendency to experience empathy and engage in prosocial action. Buddhist contemplative traditions have long been concerned with the alleviation of suffering and expanding the boundaries of those who we hold in our circle of care. Recent years have seen a growth of interest in contemplative approaches to cultivating compassionate responses to suffering. This dissertation explores contemplative approaches to training compassion, focusing on the question of whether we can, with volitional training, expand the boundaries of our circle of care. Chapter 1 draws on contemporary research from cognitive, affective, and social psychology to provide an integrative review of empirical studies of compassion training. I consider what constitutes compassion training and offer a summary of current meditation-based approaches. I then provide an overview of the empirical evidence for a relationship between compassion training and changes in socioemotional processes, prosocial behavior, and physiological stress responses to the perception of others’ suffering. I further address challenges in interpreting data from these studies, considering training-related mechanisms of change and how compassion-relevant processes might develop over time. I conclude by outlining key theoretical challenges for future research. Chapters 2 and 3 empirically investigate two key issues in contemplative approaches to training compassion: the generalization of training effects, and the volitional expansion of the circle of care. Leveraging EEG data collected as part of the Shamatha Project—a multimethod study of the psychobiological effects of intensive meditation retreat training—these chapters work to contribute to the understanding of the neurocognitive consequences of intensive contemplative training. Establishing whether effects instantiated through meditation training generalize to other, non-meditative states is an essential link in understanding how contemplative training may influence behavior—including responses to suffering—outside of the meditative context. In Chapter 2, I examine retreat-related changes in the resting brain. I show that rest is not a static baseline but rather indexes behaviorally meaningful effects of retreat training. Notably, the training-related changes in the resting brain observed in Chapter 2 closely mirror patterns of change observed in these same participants when they actively practiced mindfulness of breathing meditation. This offers support for the idea that changes instantiated during meditation practice may generalize to other, non-meditative contexts, providing key evidence for the generalization of meditation-related change. In Chapter 3, I explore whether brain activity recorded during compassion meditation provides evidence that contemplative training can extend the circle of care. Using microstate analysis, I first show that the general patterns of retreat-related change observed during compassion meditation are similar to those of the resting brain. This finding establishes global shifts in brain dynamics as a core consequence of intensive meditation training. I next use sequence analysis to compare temporal patterns of brain activity during compassion meditation when a close other, a difficult other, and all others are taken as the object of compassion. I hypothesize that the mental representations of these various others—reflected in the ongoing activity of the brain—should become more similar with training. I find consistent differences in microstate sequences as a function of the target of compassion. I do not, however, find any evidence that these sequences become more similar with training. Thus Chapter 3 establishes microstate sequence analysis as a viable method for distinguishing target-based differences in brain activity during compassion meditation, but does not offer evidence for the extension of the circle of care. As a whole, this dissertation grapples with how we can understand and measure the consequences of contemplative practice. The empirical studies offer two small contributions to the greater project of understanding if and how we can collectively expand our circles of care.
... Along with anatomical changes, several cross-sectional studies have found functional changes in experienced meditators compared to controls across large-scale networks, such as the central executive network (CEN), the default mode network (DMN) and the salience network (SN) (Doll et al. 2015;Hasenkamp et al. 2012;Froeliger et al. 2012;Garrison et al. 2015;Kong et al. 2016;Mooneyham et al. 2017;Gard et al. 2014;Irrmischer et al. 2018;Lim et al. 2018). A recent study explored information processing across the whole-brain network, reporting higher dynamical complexity during resting-state in experienced meditators than in healthy controls. ...
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In the past decades, there has been a growing scientific interest in characterizing neural correlates of meditation training. Nonetheless, the mechanisms underlying meditation remain elusive. In the present work, we investigated meditation-related changes in functional dynamics and structural connectivity (SC). For this purpose, we scanned experienced meditators and control (naive) subjects using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to acquire structural and functional data during two conditions, resting-state and meditation (focused attention on breathing). In this way, we aimed to characterize and distinguish both short-term and long-term modifications in the brain’s structure and function. First, to analyze the fMRI data, we calculated whole-brain effective connectivity (EC) estimates, relying on a dynamical network model to replicate BOLD signals’ spatio-temporal structure, akin to functional connectivity (FC) with lagged correlations. We compared the estimated EC, FC, and SC links as features to train classifiers to predict behavioral conditions and group identity. Then, we performed a network-based analysis of anatomical connectivity. We demonstrated through a machine-learning approach that EC features were more informative than FC and SC solely. We showed that the most informative EC links that discriminated between meditators and controls involved several large-scale networks mainly within the left hemisphere. Moreover, we found that differences in the functional domain were reflected to a smaller extent in changes at the anatomical level as well. The network-based analysis of anatomical pathways revealed strengthened connectivity for meditators compared to controls between four areas in the left hemisphere belonging to the somatomotor, dorsal attention, subcortical and visual networks. Overall, the results of our whole-brain model-based approach revealed a mechanism underlying meditation by providing causal relationships at the structure-function level.
... Additionally, a systematic review of MBCT studies in adults with major depressive disorder (MDD) showed that changes in mindfulness skills, rumination, worry, self-compassion, and decentering were associated with, predicted, or mediated treatment effects (van der Velden et al., 2015). Neuroimaging studies revealed reduced default mode network (DMN) activation and enhanced DMN-central executive network (CEN) connectivity in experienced meditators, suggesting that CEN negatively regulates the DMN (Bauer et al., 2019;Brewer et al., 2011;Garrison et al., 2015). ...
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Anxiety and depression are common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Caregivers of people with PD may experience severe caregiver burden. This study explored the feasibility and potential benefits of an online mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) intervention for improving anxiety and depressive symptoms in people with PD and their caregivers ( NCT04469049, 7/8/2020). People with PD or parkinsonism and anxiety and/or depressive symptoms and caregivers of people with PD participated in one of three online MBCT groups. Demographic variables, pre- and post-MBCT behavioral measures (GAD-7, PHQ-9, Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire — FFMQ-15, Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire — CSAQ), and satisfaction surveys were collected. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize data. Pre- and post-MBCT behavioral scores were compared using mixed-effect models. Fifty-six potential participants were assessed for eligibility. Twenty-eight entered MBCT groups; all but one completed the intervention. The overall sample analyzed (22 people with PD, 4 caregivers) showed significant GAD-7 and PHQ-9 score reductions and FFMQ-15 total and observing and non-reactivity subscale score increases (all p’s < 0.05). Participants with PD and anxiety symptoms (n = 14) had a significant GAD-7 score reduction; those with PD and depressive symptoms (n = 12) had a significant PHQ-9 score reduction (both p’s < 0.05). Participants with PD also had a significant FFMQ-15 observing subscale score increase (p < 0.05). The caregiver sample was too small to be analyzed separately. Online MBCT is feasible (as measured by high attendance, completion rate, and participant satisfaction) and may be effective in improving anxiety and depressive symptoms in people with PD.
... Der verstärkte Körperfokus der Aufmerksamkeit geht mit verstärkter Insula-Aktivität und verminderter zingulärer Aktivität (Default Mode Network) einher, wie Farb et al. (2007) in einer fMRT-Studie mit Novizen und leicht erfahrenen Meditierenden zeigen konnten. Die verringerte Default-Mode-Network-Aktivität bei erfahrenen Meditierenden wird generell als neuronales Korrelat des reduzierten Gedankenkreisens angesehen (Garrison et al. 2015). Für geübte Meditierende verändert sich dann aber der Zustand der verlangsamten Zeitwahrnehmung, und es wird häufig berichtet, wie sich die Sitzung viel kürzer anfühlte, als sie eigentlich dauerte (Berkovich-Ohana und Wittmann 2017; Droit-Volet und Dambrun 2019). ...
In dieser theoretischen Arbeit soll versucht werden, das Rätsel der subjektiven Zeit in gewöhnlichen und außergewöhnlichen Bewusstseinszuständen (ABZ) mit der Selbstwahrnehmung zu erklären. Die Erfahrung der Veränderlichkeit des Zeitverlaufs ist in ABZ noch extremer ausgeprägt. Dort kommt es zu einer gemeinsamen Modulation der Zeit und des Selbst. Die veränderten Zeit- und Selbsterfahrungen von Patienten mit psychischen Erkrankungen der Depression, Angst und Substanzabhängigkeit – eine Überrepräsentation der Zeit und des Selbst – sollen in einen Kontext möglicher komplementärer Interventionen wieMeditation, Floatation-REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique) und Psychedelikaanwendungen gesetzt werden; diese basieren auf den skizzierten psychologischen und neuronalen Grundlagen der Zeit- und Selbstwahrnehmung.
... 610). Moreover, the default mode network, defined as a "network of interacting brain regions that is active when a person is not focused on the outside world" (Voelcker-Rehage et al., 2016, p. 63), such as during mind wandering, is reduced during meditation (Garrison et al., 2015;Voelcker-Rehage et al., 2016;Ramírez-Barrantes et al., 2019;Feruglio et al., 2021). The default mode network is involved in internal mentation, understood as "the introspective and adaptive mental activities in which humans spontaneously and deliberately engage in everyday" (Andrews-Hanna, 2012, p. 251). ...
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Researchers have recently turned their focus to a specific area: the links between altered states of consciousness and creativity. A spectrum of attentional states of consciousness exists, from hypnagogia and mind wandering to mindfulness and flow. These attentional states of consciousness are present during a variety of activities (e.g., sports, music, painting, writing, video games, theater, and meditation) as well as in situations characterized by boredom. They are also present in many professional fields and practices (e.g., education and teaching). Moreover, researchers and educators focus sometimes on only one state of consciousness (such as mind wandering) or only on attention, and do not question relationships with others (such as mindfulness or flow) or the links with intention, the different levels of consciousness involved and the changes in perception of time, self and space. Additionally, as we know that a state of consciousness rarely occurs alone or that it can have two forms (such as spontaneous and deliberate mind wandering), we propose a global approach allowing to grasp the stakes and perspectives of what we call attentional states of consciousness. Thus, to our knowledge, this is the first theoretical review highlighting the historical, empirical, theorical and conceptual relationships between creativity, attention, mind wandering, mindfulness and flow by offering concrete and empirical avenues and bases for reflection about educating for creativity and developing creative potential.
... Abnormalities in DMN activity and functional connectivity have been linked to psychiatric disorders, including major depressive disorder (Hamilton et al., 2015;Sambataro et al., 2014;Wise et al., 2017). Mindfulness meditation training has been shown to down-regulate activity of the DMN (Brewer et al., 2011;Garrison et al., 2015). This may be explained by the fact that DMN-related processes, including mind-wandering and self-reflection, are conceptually opposed to the present-moment awareness component of mindfulness (Brewer et al., 2011). ...
This review synthesizes relations between mindfulness and resting-state fMRI functional connectivity of brain networks. Mindfulness is characterized by present-moment awareness and experiential acceptance, and relies on attention control, self-awareness, and emotion regulation. We integrate studies of functional connectivity and (1) trait mindfulness and (2) mindfulness meditation interventions. Mindfulness is related to functional connectivity in the default mode (DMN), frontoparietal (FPN), and salience (SN) networks. Specifically, mindfulness-mediated functional connectivity changes include (1) increased connectivity between posterior cingulate cortex (DMN) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (FPN), which may relate to attention control; (2) decreased connectivity between cuneus and SN, which may relate to self-awareness; (3) increased connectivity between rostral anterior cingulate cortex region and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMN) and decreased connectivity between rostral anterior cingulate cortex region and amygdala region, both of which may relate to emotion regulation; and lastly, (4) increased connectivity between dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (SN) and anterior insula (SN) which may relate to pain relief. While further study of mindfulness is needed, neural signatures of mindfulness are emerging.
Background Current first-line treatment for social anxiety disorder (SAD), one of the most prevalent anxiety disorders, is limited in its efficacy. Hence, novel treatment approaches are urgently needed. The current review suggests a combination of meditation-based interventions and the administration of a psychedelic as a future alternative treatment approach. While both separate treatments show promise in the treatment of (other) clinical conditions, their combination has not yet been investigated in the treatment of psychopathologies. Aim With a systematic literature review, we aim to identify the potential mechanisms by which combined psilocybin and mindfulness treatment could adjust anomalous neural activity underlying SAD and exert therapeutic effects. Results Thirty experimental studies investigating the neural effects of meditation or psilocybin treatment in healthy and patient samples were included. Findings suggest that psilocybin-assisted meditation interventions might change cognitive processes like biased attention to threat linked to SAD by modulating connectivity of the salience network, balancing the activity and connectivity of cortical-midline structures, and increasing frontoparietal control over amygdala reactivity. Conclusions Future studies should investigate whether psilocybin-assisted mindfulness-based intervention can provide therapeutic benefits to SAD patients who are do not remit following conventional therapy.
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Importance Many people meditate to reduce psychological stress and stress-related health problems. To counsel people appropriately, clinicians need to know what the evidence says about the health benefits of meditation. Objective To determine the efficacy of meditation programs in improving stress-related outcomes (anxiety, depression, stress/distress, positive mood, mental health–related quality of life, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, pain, and weight) in diverse adult clinical populations. Evidence Review We identified randomized clinical trials with active controls for placebo effects through November 2012 from MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, PsycArticles, Scopus, CINAHL, AMED, the Cochrane Library, and hand searches. Two independent reviewers screened citations and extracted data. We graded the strength of evidence using 4 domains (risk of bias, precision, directness, and consistency) and determined the magnitude and direction of effect by calculating the relative difference between groups in change from baseline. When possible, we conducted meta-analyses using standardized mean differences to obtain aggregate estimates of effect size with 95% confidence intervals. Findings After reviewing 18 753 citations, we included 47 trials with 3515 participants. Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety (effect size, 0.38 [95% CI, 0.12-0.64] at 8 weeks and 0.22 [0.02-0.43] at 3-6 months), depression (0.30 [0.00-0.59] at 8 weeks and 0.23 [0.05-0.42] at 3-6 months), and pain (0.33 [0.03- 0.62]) and low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health–related quality of life. We found low evidence of no effect or insufficient evidence of any effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight. We found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (ie, drugs, exercise, and other behavioral therapies). Conclusions and Relevance Clinicians should be aware that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress. Thus, clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program could have in addressing psychological stress. Stronger study designs are needed to determine the effects of meditation programs in improving the positive dimensions of mental health and stress-related behavior.
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Neurophenomenological studies seek to utilize first-person self-report to elucidate cognitive processes related to physiological data. Grounded theory offers an approach to the qualitative analysis of self-report, whereby theoretical constructs are derived from empirical data. Here we used grounded theory methodology (GTM) to assess how the first-person experience of meditation relates to neural activity in a core region of the default mode network-the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). We analyzed first-person data consisting of meditators' accounts of their subjective experience during runs of a real time fMRI neurofeedback study of meditation, and third-person data consisting of corresponding feedback graphs of PCC activity during the same runs. We found that for meditators, the subjective experiences of "undistracted awareness" such as "concentration" and "observing sensory experience," and "effortless doing" such as "observing sensory experience," "not efforting," and "contentment," correspond with PCC deactivation. Further, the subjective experiences of "distracted awareness" such as "distraction" and "interpreting," and "controlling" such as "efforting" and "discontentment," correspond with PCC activation. Moreover, we derived several novel hypotheses about how specific qualities of cognitive processes during meditation relate to PCC activity, such as the difference between meditation and "trying to meditate." These findings offer novel insights into the relationship between meditation and mind wandering or self-related thinking and neural activity in the default mode network, driven by first-person reports.
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The brain network governing meditation has been studied using a variety of meditation practices and techniques practices eliciting different cognitive processes (e.g., silence, attention to own body, sense of joy, mantras, etc.). It is very possible that different practices of meditation are subserved by largely, if not entirely, disparate brain networks. This assumption was tested by conducting an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis of meditation neuroimaging studies, which assessed 150 activation foci from 24 experiments. Different ALE meta-analyses were carried out. One involved the subsets of studies involving meditation induced through exercising focused attention (FA). The network included clusters bilaterally in the medial gyrus, the left superior parietal lobe, the left insula and the right supramarginal gyrus (SMG). A second analysis addressed the studies involving meditation states induced by chanting or by repetition of words or phrases, known as "mantra." This type of practice elicited a cluster of activity in the right SMG, the SMA bilaterally and the left postcentral gyrus. Furthermore, the last analyses addressed the effect of meditation experience (i.e., short- vs. long-term meditators). We found that frontal activation was present for short-term, as compared with long-term experience meditators, confirming that experts are better enabled to sustain attentional focus, rather recruiting the right SMG and concentrating on aspects involving disembodiment.
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Mindfulness meditation has been shown to promote emotional stability. Moreover, during the processing of aversive and self-referential stimuli, mindful awareness is associated with reduced medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) activity, a central default mode network (DMN) component. However, it remains unclear whether mindfulness practice influences functional connectivity between DMN regions and, if so, whether such impact persists beyond a state of meditation. Consequently, this study examined the effect of extensive mindfulness training on functional connectivity within the DMN during a restful state. Resting-state data were collected from 13 experienced meditators (with over 1000 h of training) and 11 beginner meditators (with no prior experience, trained for 1 week before the study) using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Pairwise correlations and partial correlations were computed between DMN seed regions' time courses and were compared between groups utilizing a Bayesian sampling scheme. Relative to beginners, experienced meditators had weaker functional connectivity between DMN regions involved in self-referential processing and emotional appraisal. In addition, experienced meditators had increased connectivity between certain DMN regions (e.g. dorso-medial PFC and right inferior parietal lobule), compared to beginner meditators. These findings suggest that meditation training leads to functional connectivity changes between core DMN regions possibly reflecting strengthened present-moment awareness.
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Many philosophical and contemplative traditions teach that "living in the moment" increases happiness. However, the default mode of humans appears to be that of mind-wandering, which correlates with unhappiness, and with activation in a network of brain areas associated with self-referential processing. We investigated brain activity in experienced meditators and matched meditation-naive controls as they performed several different meditations (Concentration, Loving-Kindness, Choiceless Awareness). We found that the main nodes of the default-mode network (medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortices) were relatively deactivated in experienced meditators across all meditation types. Furthermore, functional connectivity analysis revealed stronger coupling in experienced meditators between the posterior cingulate, dorsal anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices (regions previously implicated in self-monitoring and cognitive control), both at baseline and during meditation. Our findings demonstrate differences in the default-mode network that are consistent with decreased mind-wandering. As such, these provide a unique understanding of possible neural mechanisms of meditation.
A considerable body of evidence has accumulated over recent years on the functions of the default-mode network (DMN) - a set of brain regions whose activity is high when the mind is not engaged in specific behavioral tasks and low during focused attention on the external environment. In this review, we focus on DMN suppression and its functional role in health and disease, summarizing evidence that spans several disciplines, including cognitive neuroscience, pharmacological neuroimaging, clinical neuroscience, and theoretical neuroscience. Collectively, this research highlights the functional relevance of DMN suppression for goal-directed cognition, possibly by reducing goal-irrelevant functions supported by the DMN (e.g., mind-wandering), and illustrates the functional significance of DMN suppression deficits in severe mental illness.
Neuroimaging data suggest a link between the spontaneous production of thoughts during wakeful rest and slow fluctuations of activity in the default mode network (DMN), a set of brain regions with high basal metabolism and a major neural hub in the ventral posteromedial cortex (vPMC). Meta-awareness and regulation of mind-wandering are core cognitive components of most contemplative practices and to study their impact on DMN activity, we collected functional MRI (fMRI) data from a cohort of experienced Zen meditators and meditation-naive controls engaging in a basic attention-to-breathing protocol. We observed a significant group difference in the skewness of the fMRI BOLD signal from the vPMC, suggesting that the relative incidence of states of elevated vPMC activity was lower in meditators; furthermore, the same parameter was significantly correlated with performance on a rapid visual information processing (RVIP) test for sustained attention conducted outside the scanner. Finally, a functional connectivity analysis with the vPMC seed revealed a significant association of RVIP performance with the degree of temporal correlation between vPMC and the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ), a region strongly implicated in stimulus-triggered reorienting of attention. Together, these findings suggest that the vPMC BOLD signal skewness and the temporal relationship of vPMC and TPJ activities reflect the dynamic tension between mind-wandering, meta-awareness, and directed attention, and may represent a useful endophenotype for studying individual differences in attentional abilities and the impairment of the latter in specific clinical conditions.