Cognitive Processing

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 57–84 | Cite as

An investigation of brain processes supporting meditation

  • Klaus B. BærentsenEmail author
  • Hans Stødkilde-Jørgensen
  • Bo Sommerlund
  • Tue Hartmann
  • Johannes Damsgaard-Madsen
  • Mark Fosnæs
  • Anders C. Green
Research Report


Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice, which aims to still the fluctuations of the mind. We investigated meditation with fMRI in order to identify and characterise both the “neural switch” mechanism used in the voluntary shift from normal consciousness to meditation and the “threshold regulation mechanism” sustaining the meditative state. Thirty-one individuals with 1.5–25 years experience in meditation were scanned using a blocked on–off design with 45 s alternating epochs during the onset of respectively meditation and normal relaxation. Additionally, 21 subjects were scanned during 14.5 min of sustained meditation. The data were analysed with SPM and ICA. During the onset of meditation, activations were found bilaterally in the putamen and the supplementary motor cortex, while deactivations were found predominately in the right hemisphere, the precuneus, the posterior cingulum and the parieto–temporal area. During sustained meditation, SPM analysis revealed activation in the head of nucleus caudatus. Extensive deactivations were observed in white matter in the right hemisphere, i.e. mainly in the posterior occipito–parieto–temporal area and in the frontal lobes. ICA identified 38 components including known baseline-resting state components, one of which not only overlaps with the activated area revealed in the SPM analysis but extends further into frontal, temporal, parietal and limbic areas, and might presumably constitute a combination of frontoparietal and cinguloopercular task control systems. The identified component processes display varying degrees of correlation. We hypothesise that a proper characterisation of brain processes during meditation will require an operational definition of brain dynamics matching a stable state of mind.


Independent Component Analysis Inferior Parietal Lobe Parahippocampal Gyrus Wisconsin Card Sort Test Medial Frontal Gyrus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research has been supported by The Danish Research Council for the Humanities (the Rococo project) and The Research Fund of the University of Aarhus. Certain aspects of the approach have benefited much from inspiring discussions with the excellent researchers participating in the EU COST BM0601 action. The authors also acknowledge the invaluable support with initial data analysis received from Niels Væver Hartvig and Thordis Linda Thorarinsdottir, as well as the efforts of a substantial number of student assistants. We also want to thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive critique, and Philip Kyle for his help with the English.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Klaus B. Bærentsen
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Hans Stødkilde-Jørgensen
    • 2
  • Bo Sommerlund
    • 1
  • Tue Hartmann
    • 3
  • Johannes Damsgaard-Madsen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mark Fosnæs
    • 1
  • Anders C. Green
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AarhusAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.MR Research CentreAarhus University HospitalAarhusDenmark
  3. 3.Centre for Psychiatric ResearchAarhus University HospitalRisskovDenmark

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