Reduced mind wandering in experienced meditators and associated EEG correlates

Abstract

One outstanding question in the contemplative science literature relates to the direct impact of meditation experience on the monitoring of internal states and its respective correspondence with neural activity. In particular, to what extent does meditation influence the awareness, duration and frequency of the tendency of the mind to wander. To assess the relation between mind wandering and meditation, we tested 2 groups of meditators, one with a moderate level of experience (non-expert) and those who are well advanced in their practice (expert). We designed a novel paradigm using self-reports of internal mental states based on an experiential sampling probe paradigm presented during ~1 h of seated concentration meditation to gain insight into the dynamic measures of electroencephalography (EEG) during absorption in meditation as compared to reported mind wandering episodes. Our results show that expert meditation practitioners report a greater depth and frequency of sustained meditation, whereas non-expert practitioners report a greater depth and frequency of mind wandering episodes. This is one of the first direct behavioral indices of meditation expertise and its associated impact on the reduced frequency of mind wandering, with corresponding EEG activations showing increased frontal midline theta and somatosensory alpha rhythms during meditation as compared to mind wandering in expert practitioners. Frontal midline theta and somatosensory alpha rhythms are often observed during executive functioning, cognitive control and the active monitoring of sensory information. Our study thus provides additional new evidence to support the hypothesis that the maintenance of both internal and external orientations of attention may be maintained by similar neural mechanisms and that these mechanisms may be modulated by meditation training.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by Grants from the ANR (Agence Nationale pour la Recherche) ANR-12-JSH2-0009 and the BIAL foundation BIAL-08-162. The authors wish to thank the late Swami Veda, Gopalkrishna Prabhu, Pravin Kumar Soni, John Sellinger and all the members of the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama ashram where the data were collected and the volunteers who participated in this study.

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Correspondence to Tracy Brandmeyer.

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Brandmeyer, T., Delorme, A. Reduced mind wandering in experienced meditators and associated EEG correlates. Exp Brain Res 236, 2519–2528 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-016-4811-5

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Keywords

  • Mind wandering
  • Meditation
  • fm theta
  • Alpha
  • Cognitive control
  • Top-down processing