Brain Activity in Mindfulness Depends on Experience: a Meta-Analysis of fMRI Studies

Abstract

Mindfulness and mindful meditation have become widely used approaches in clinical psychology. The growing use of these techniques has increased demand in research examining the foundations of mindfulness and its treatment efficacy. In particular, understanding the neurological mechanisms associated with mindfulness practice is an important area of research. To better understand these mechanisms, this meta-analytic study examines brain activity associated with practicing mindful meditation. Further, we examined the influence of experience on neural correlates by analyzing studies utilizing naive participants separately from studies examining experienced meditators. Literature review was used to identify studies examining mindful mediation using fMRI. Twenty-one studies were selected, with a total of 22 contrasts. Eleven contrasts used novice participants and 12 used experienced participants. Using activation likelihood estimate methods, we found that, across all contrasts, foci of consistent activity related to mindful meditation were found in the frontal regions, anterior cingulate, and insula. In contrasts utilizing novice participants, a focus was found in the insula. Foci in the medial frontal gyrus and globus pallidus were observed in the experienced participant contrasts. These findings are consistent with the literature on cognitive and motor skill learning and support the idea that mindfulness is a learnable skill.

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Correspondence to Matthew Jerram.

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Falcone, G., Jerram, M. Brain Activity in Mindfulness Depends on Experience: a Meta-Analysis of fMRI Studies. Mindfulness 9, 1319–1329 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-018-0884-5

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Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • fMRI
  • Neuroimaging
  • Meta-analysis
  • Activation likelihood estimation
  • Skill learning