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Mindfulness Induces Changes in Anterior Alpha Asymmetry in Healthy Older Adults

  • Ben IsbelEmail author
  • Jim Lagopoulos
  • Daniel F. Hermens
  • Mathew J. Summers



Anterior alpha asymmetry is an EEG measure of relative left- or right-sided prefrontal cortical activity that has been associated with affective style, such that greater relative left-sided activity is associated with positive affect and approach-related behaviours. While mindfulness has been shown to enhance attention and affect, here we investigate the underlying neurobiological changes supporting these outcomes by assessing anterior alpha asymmetry.


A longitudinal RCT was conducted to investigate the effect of an 8-week mindfulness training (MT) intervention on anterior alpha asymmetry and affect in a group of healthy adults aged over 60 years (n = 41). An active control computer-based attention training (CT) program (n = 26) designed to activate similar attentional components to mindfulness was used to determine if outcomes resulted from attention training or mindfulness-specific factors. The Sustained Attention to Response Task was used to assess attentional performance, while a breath counting task was used to classify mindfulness participants into high (MT-HIGH; n = 19) and low (MT-LOW; n = 22) proficiency groups.


While all groups displayed improved attentional performance, only the MT-HIGH and MT-LOW groups showed significant increases in positive affect as measured by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. The MT-HIGH group showed significantly increased relative left-sided activity at both Fp1/Fp2 and F3/F4 electrode pairs, while no significant changes were observed in the MT-LOW and CT groups.


These results suggest that 8 weeks of mindfulness training is capable of inducing changes in resting anterior alpha asymmetry, but these results are dependent upon the level of proficiency achieved.


Mindfulness Alpha asymmetry Attention Affect Ageing 


Author Contributions

BI designed and conducted the study, delivered the interventions, performed the data analysis, and wrote the paper. JL collaborated in the data analysis, writing, and editing of the final manuscript. DH collaborated in the data analysis, writing, and editing of the final manuscript. MS collaborated in the design, data analysis, writing, and editing of the final manuscript.


BI conducted this work with the support of the Judy Henzell Memorial Scholarship. MS reports personal fees from Eli Lily (Australia) Pty Ltd. and grants from Novotech Pty Ltd., outside the submitted work.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethics Statement

All procedures were performed in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of the Sunshine Coast Human Research Ethics Committee (approval: HREC A-15-748), the Australian National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, and the Code of Ethics of the World Medical Association (Declaration of Helsinki). In accordance with the latter two ethical statements which proscribe the use of no-treatment or placebo controls when existing effective treatment conditions exist, an active control condition consisting of a program of cognitive training was used as a comparison condition to assess the benefits of mindfulness training.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

12671_2019_1106_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (76 kb)
Supplementary Material 1 Participant acceptance criteria for inclusion into the study (PDF 76 kb)
12671_2019_1106_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (48 kb)
Supplementary Material 2 Weekly structure of the training interventions. (PDF 47 kb)
12671_2019_1106_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (55 kb)
Supplementary Material 3 Computer-based attention training tasks utilised in the active control condition. (PDF 54 kb)
12671_2019_1106_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (179 kb)
Supplementary Material 4 Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART) (PDF 179 kb)
12671_2019_1106_MOESM5_ESM.pdf (74 kb)
Supplementary Material 5 Correlational results for change in alpha asymmetry, affect, and breath-counting accuracy. (PDF 73 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience – Thompson InstituteUniversity of the Sunshine CoastMaroochydore DCAustralia

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