Neural responses re mindfulness and compassion

brain scan1Mascaro, J. S., et al. (2012) Pre-existing brain function predicts subsequent practice of mindfulness and compassion meditation. (Abstract). Neuroimage. December Epub ahead of print. [Closely related article by same research team in full.]

While a variety of meditation techniques are increasingly employed as health interventions, the fact that meditation requires a significant commitment of time and effort may limit its potential widespread utility. In the current study, we ask whether baseline subjective reports or brain activity in response to a “Pain for Self and Others” paradigm predicts subsequent engagement in mindfulness and compassion meditation. The study also investigated whether compassion training would impact neural responses when compared to an active health education control group.

Prior to training, activation of the left and right anterior insula, an area thought to be important for empathy, in response to the Other pain task was positively related to engagement with compassion meditation as measured by practice time (n=13). On the other hand, activity in the left amygdala during the Self pain task was negatively correlated with mindfulness practice time. Following the study intervention, there was no difference between the compassion group (n=13), and the control group (n=8), in brain responses to either the Self or Other task.

These results are the first to indicate that baseline neural responses may predict engagement with meditation training and suggest that pre-existing neurobiological profiles differentially predispose individuals to engage with disparate meditation techniques.

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One Comment

  1. N of the studies is rather small. Also it is not known if both groups are comparable demographically (age, gender, race) or in their psychiatric history, eg, depression, stress, anxiety.

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