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EEG Neurofeedback During Focused Attention Meditation: Effects on State Mindfulness and Meditation Experiences

Abstract

Objectives

EEG neurofeedback has potential to increase the effectiveness of mobile meditation applications by providing synchronous performance feedback to meditators. This crossover trial aimed to evaluate the effects of auditory EEG neurofeedback on state mindfulness during focused attention meditation—a putative mediator of mental health benefits—relative to no feedback.

Methods

Adult participants (N = 68, Mage = 22.66, SDage = 7.35) completed a task-based measure of state mindfulness while meditating with and without auditory feedback from a consumer-grade EEG headband. Participants rated subjective meditation experiences in each condition. A subgroup (n = 29) completed 14 days of home practice with the device and responded to open-ended questions about their experience.

Results

Auditory feedback was associated with greater state mindfulness (RR = 1.15, 95% CI [1.00, 1.29]). Device-measured mind wandering was lower when feedback was present (d = − 0.22 [− 0.07, − 0.37]), but there was a negligible effect on device-measured recoveries from mind wandering episodes (d = − 0.11 [− 0.30, 0.08]). Feedback was associated with quantitative differences in subjective experiences consistent with heightened arousal. Thematic analysis revealed helpful (active, guiding) and unhelpful (stressful, distracting, incongruent with subjective experience) aspects of feedback.

Conclusions

EEG neurofeedback appears to increase state mindfulness in adults during a brief meditation. These results support feedback as an effective adjunct to meditation. Psychoeducation regarding feedback and the meditative experience may help to maximise the beneficial effects. Replication of these findings in clinical populations is warranted.

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Funding

This work was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship, CSIRO, and InteraXon, Inc.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by HH. The first draft of the manuscript was written by HH, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hugh Hunkin.

Ethics declarations

The study design and protocol were approved by the University of Adelaide Human Research Ethics Committee, School of Psychology Subcommittee, and reciprocal endorsement was given by the CSIRO Human Research Ethics Committee. All participants in this study provided informed consent prior to participation.

Competing Interests

The authors declare that CSIRO and InteraXon, Inc. (manufacturers of the Muse device) have entered into a collaboration agreement under which CSIRO contribute research capacity while InteraXon contributes access to data and Muse headbands for research purposes. The authors retain complete independence in regard to data collection and reporting. The authors further declare no personal interests constituting a conflict of interest.

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Hunkin, H., King, D.L. & Zajac, I.T. EEG Neurofeedback During Focused Attention Meditation: Effects on State Mindfulness and Meditation Experiences. Mindfulness 12, 841–851 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01541-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01541-0

Keywords

  • EEG
  • Neurofeedback
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Wearable electronic devices