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We have studied a number of long-term meditators in previous studies. The purpose of this study was to determine if there are differences in baseline brain function of experienced meditators compared to non-meditators. All subjects were recruited as part of an ongoing study of different meditation practices. We evaluated 12 advanced meditators and 14 non-meditators with cerebral blood flow (CBF) SPECT imaging at rest. Images were analyzed with both region of interest and statistical parametric mapping. The CBF of long-term meditators was significantly higher (p < .05) compared to non-meditators in the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, thalamus, putamen, caudate, and midbrain. There was also a significant difference in the thalamic laterality with long-term meditators having greater asymmetry. The observed changes associated with long-term meditation appear in structures that underlie the attention network and also those that relate to emotion and autonomic function.

Brain Respiration (BR)-training is a unique form of breathing exercise that develops potential ability by facilitating brain function. It is recognized as an effective method of improving the scholastic aptitude and emotional stability of children. The present study was designed to investigate the characteristics of the EEG during this training. Spectral analysis was used to examine the relative power in the EEG of 12 children while they practiced BR-training, and these were compared to those of 12 matched controls. BR-trainees showed a lower θ rhythm than the controls before the training session began and lower β[sub 2] power before, during and after the session. In contrast, the BR subjects showed greater relative α[sub 1] power than the controls in the left frontal region during BR-training, which persisted throughout the BR-training schedule. There is evidence that decreased θ and β waves may be correlated with emotional maturation, whilst increased α waves are associated with educational achievement. These findings enhance our understanding of the neurophysiological basis of the effects of BR-training upon emotion and maturation.

Mindfulness meditation is a set of attention-based, regulatory, and self-inquiry training regimes. Although the impact of mindfulness training (MT) on self-regulation is well established, the neural mechanisms supporting such plasticity are poorly understood. MT is thought to act through interoceptive salience and attentional control mechanisms, but until now conflicting evidence from behavioral and neural measures renders difficult distinguishing their respective roles. To resolve this question we conducted a fully randomized 6 week longitudinal trial of MT, explicitly controlling for cognitive and treatment effects with an active-control group. We measured behavioral metacognition and whole-brain blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signals using functional MRI during an affective Stroop task before and after intervention in healthy human subjects. Although both groups improved significantly on a response-inhibition task, only the MT group showed reduced affective Stroop conflict. Moreover, the MT group displayed greater dorsolateral prefrontal cortex responses during executive processing, consistent with increased recruitment of top-down mechanisms to resolve conflict. In contrast, we did not observe overall group-by-time interactions on negative affect-related reaction times or BOLD responses. However, only participants with the greatest amount of MT practice showed improvements in response inhibition and increased recruitment of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, and right anterior insula during negative valence processing. Our findings highlight the importance of active control in MT research, indicate unique neural mechanisms for progressive stages of mindfulness training, and suggest that optimal application of MT may differ depending on context, contrary to a one-size-fits-all approach.

Recently, there is a growing interest in meditation as an attentional and emotional regulatory strategy. To examine whether meditative practice is associated with successful emotion regulation, we examined the neurophysiological correlates of cognitive reappraisal in practitioners of a yogic meditative technique and controls. Participants were presented aversive pictures and were asked to cognitively change their appraisal of the affective meaning of the pictures by coming up with an alternative more positive interpretation of each picture. We found reduced magnitude of Event-Related Potentials (P300 and early time intervals of the late positive potential, LPP) following cognitive reappraisal of aversive pictures in both groups. However, in the yogic group, reduced magnitude was sustained during the later intervals of the LPP, while it subsided in the control group. Moreover, reduced amplitude of the late LPP correlated positively with experience of the technique. Results suggest a relation between yogic meditative practice and sustained attenuation of emotional response following emotion regulation. Increased positive affect and familiarity with cognitive emotion regulation in the yogic group may explain this effect. Whether this is a direct causal effect of the practice or can be attributed to characteristics of the participants that preexisted the training needs further examination in a randomized longitudinal study. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

The ability to accurately infer others’ mental states from facial expressions is important for optimal social functioning and is fundamentally impaired in social cognitive disorders such as autism. While pharmacologic interventions have shown promise for enhancing empathic accuracy, little is known about the effects of behavioral interventions on empathic accuracy and related brain activity. This study employed a randomized, controlled and longitudinal design to investigate the effect of a secularized analytical compassion meditation program, cognitive-based compassion training (CBCT), on empathic accuracy. Twenty-one healthy participants received functional MRI scans while completing an empathic accuracy task, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), both prior to and after completion of either CBCT or a health discussion control group. Upon completion of the study interventions, participants randomized to CBCT and were significantly more likely than control subjects to have increased scores on the RMET and increased neural activity in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC). Moreover, changes in dmPFC and IFG activity from baseline to the post-intervention assessment were associated with changes in empathic accuracy. These findings suggest that CBCT may hold promise as a behavioral intervention for enhancing empathic accuracy and the neurobiology supporting it.

This study investigated differences in brain activation during meditation between meditators and non-meditators. Fifteen Vipassana meditators (mean practice: 7.9 years, 2 h daily) and fifteen non-meditators, matched for sex, age, education, and handedness, participated in a block-design fMRI study that included mindfulness of breathing and mental arithmetic conditions. For the meditation condition (contrasted to arithmetic), meditators showed stronger activations in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex bilaterally, compared to controls. Greater rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation in meditators may reflect stronger processing of distracting events. The increased activation in the medial prefrontal cortex may reflect that meditators are stronger engaged in emotional processing.

Considerable research has disclosed how cognitive reappraisals and the modulation of emotional responses promote successful emotion regulation. Less research has examined how the early processing of emotion-relevant stimuli may create divergent emotional response consequences. Mindfulness—a receptive, non-evaluative form of attention—is theorized to foster emotion regulation, and the present study examined whether individual differences in mindfulness would modulate neural responses associated with the early processing of affective stimuli. Focus was on the late positive potential (LPP) of the event-related brain potential to visual stimuli varying in emotional valence and arousal. This study first found, replicating past research, that high arousal images, particularly of an unpleasant type, elicited larger LPP responses. Second, the study found that more mindful individuals showed lower LPP responses to high arousal unpleasant images, even after controlling for trait attentional control. Conversely, two traits contrasting with mindfulness—neuroticism and negative affectivity—were associated with higher LPP responses to high arousal unpleasant images. Finally, mindfulness was also associated with lower LPP responses to motivationally salient pleasant images (erotica). These findings suggest that mindfulness modulates neural responses in an early phase of affective processing, and contribute to understanding how this quality of attention may promote healthy emotional functioning.

Mindfulness meditation practices (MMPs) are a subgroup of meditation practices which are receiving growing attention. The present paper reviews current evidence about the effects of MMPs on objective measures of cognitive functions. Five databases were searched. Twenty three studies providing measures of attention, memory, executive functions and further miscellaneous measures of cognition were included. Fifteen were controlled or randomized controlled studies and 8 were case–control studies. Overall, reviewed studies suggested that early phases of mindfulness training, which are more concerned with the development of focused attention, could be associated with significant improvements in selective and executive attention whereas the following phases, which are characterized by an open monitoring of internal and external stimuli, could be mainly associated with improved unfocused sustained attention abilities. Additionally, MMPs could enhance working memory capacity and some executive functions. However, many of the included studies show methodological limitations and negative results have been reported as well, plausibly reflecting differences in study design, study duration and patients' populations. Accordingly, even though findings here reviewed provided preliminary evidence suggesting that MMPs could enhance cognitive functions, available evidence should be considered with caution and further high quality studies investigating more standardized mindfulness meditation programs are needed.

Experienced Qigong meditators who regularly perform the exercises “Thinking of Nothing” and “Qigong” were studied with multichannel EEG source imaging during their meditations. The intracerebral localization of brain electric activity during the two meditation conditions was compared using sLORETA functional EEG tomography. Differences between conditions were assessed using t statistics (corrected for multiple testing) on the normalized and log-transformed current density values of the sLORETA images. In the EEG alpha-2 frequency, 125 voxels differed significantly; all were more active during “Qigong” than “Thinking of Nothing,” forming a single cluster in parietal Brodmann areas 5, 7, 31, and 40, all in the right hemisphere. In the EEG beta-1 frequency, 37 voxels differed significantly; all were more active during “Thinking of Nothing” than “Qigong,” forming a single cluster in prefrontal Brodmann areas 6, 8, and 9, all in the left hemisphere. Compared to combined initial–final no-task resting, “Qigong” showed activation in posterior areas whereas “Thinking of Nothing” showed activation in anterior areas. The stronger activity of posterior (right) parietal areas during “Qigong” and anterior (left) prefrontal areas during “Thinking of Nothing” may reflect a predominance of self-reference, attention and input-centered processing in the “Qigong” meditation, and of control-centered processing in the “Thinking of Nothing” meditation.

Forty non-meditators were randomly assigned to 4 experimental cells devised to control for order and expectation effects. The subjects (all female) were continuously monitored on 7 physiological measures during both meditation and rest. Each subject was her own control in an ‘abab’ experimental paradigm comparing meditation to rest. The subjects, meditating for the first time, showed marginally lower psychophysiological arousal during the meditation than rest condition for systolic blood pressure, heart rate, skin conductance level and digital skin temperature. Delibrately fostering positive expectations of meditation was associated with lower physiological arousal in terms of diastolic and systolic blood pressure, heart rate and skin conductance level.

This study sought to examine the effect of meditation experience on brain networks underlying cognitive actions employed during contemplative practice. In a previous study, we proposed a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations that occur during the practice of focused attention meditation. This model specifies four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering (MW), awareness of MW, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. Using subjective input from experienced practitioners during meditation, we identified activity in salience network regions during awareness of MW and executive network regions during shifting and sustained attention. Brain regions associated with the default mode were active during MW. In the present study, we reasoned that repeated activation of attentional brain networks over years of practice may induce lasting functional connectivity changes within relevant circuits. To investigate this possibility, we created seeds representing the networks that were active during the four phases of the earlier study, and examined functional connectivity during the resting state in the same participants. Connectivity maps were then contrasted between participants with high vs. low meditation experience. Participants with more meditation experience exhibited increased connectivity within attentional networks, as well as between attentional regions and medial frontal regions. These neural relationships may be involved in the development of cognitive skills, such as maintaining attention and disengaging from distraction, that are often reported with meditation practice. Furthermore, because altered connectivity of brain regions in experienced meditators was observed in a non-meditative (resting) state, this may represent a transference of cognitive abilities “off the cushion” into daily life.


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