Brain changes in ‘loving kindness’ meditators

Leung, M.K., et al. (2012). Increased gray-matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in loving-kindness meditators. [Abstract]. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. Published online. Full text.

Previous voxel-based morphometry (VBM) studies have revealed that meditation is associated with structural brain changes in regions underlying cognitive processes that are required for attention or mindfulness during meditation. This VBM study examined brain changes related to the practice of an emotion-oriented meditation, namely, loving-kindness meditation (LKM). A 3T MRI scanner captured images of the brain structures of 25 men, 10 of whom had practiced LKM in the Theravada tradition for at least 5 years.

Compared with novices, more gray-matter volume was detected in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in LKM experts. The right angular gyrus has not been previously reported to have structural difference associated with meditation and its specific role in theory of mind and cognitive empathy suggest the uniqueness of this finding to LKM practice. These regions are important for affective regulation associated with empathic response, anxiety, and mood. At the same time, gray matter volume in the left temporal lobe in the LKM experts appeared greater, an observation that has also been reported in previous MRI meditation studies on meditation styles other than LKM.

Overall, the findings of our study suggest that the experience with LKM may influence brain structures associated with affective regulation.


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