Brain regions associated with attention may differ between long- and short-term meditators

Baron Short, E., et al. (2010). Regional brain activation during meditation shows time and practice effects: an exploratory FMRI study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 7(1), 121-127. Full text via abstract.

Excerpts: Meditation involves attentional regulation and may lead to increased activity in brain regions associated with attention such as dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined whether DLPFC and ACC were activated during meditation. Subjects who meditate were recruited and scanned on a 3.0 Tesla scanner.

Subjects meditated for four sessions of 12 min and performed four sessions of a 6 min control task. Individual and group t-maps were generated of overall meditation response versus control response and late meditation response versus early meditation response for each subject and time courses were plotted. For the overall group (n = 13), and using an overall brain analysis, there were no statistically significant regional activations of interest using conservative thresholds.

A region of interest analysis of the entire group time courses of DLPFC and ACC were statistically more active throughout meditation in comparison to the control task. Moreover, dividing the cohort into short (n = 8) and long-term (n = 5) practitioners (>10 years) revealed that the time courses of long-term practitioners had significantly more consistent and sustained activation in the DLPFC and the ACC during meditation versus control in comparison to short-term practitioners.

The regional brain activations in the more practised subjects may correlate with better sustained attention and attentional error monitoring. In summary, brain regions associated with attention vary over the time of a meditation session and may differ between long- and short-term meditation practitioners.

Neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations

Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychological medicine, 40(08), 1239-1252. Full text.

From the Abstract. Mindfulness meditation (MM) practices constitute an important group of meditative practices that have received growing attention. The aim of the present paper was to systematically review current evidence on the neurobiological changes and clinical benefits related to MM practice in psychiatric disorders, in physical illnesses and in healthy subjects.

Electroencephalographic (EEG) studies have revealed a significant increase in alpha and theta activity during meditation. Neuroimaging studies showed that MM practice activates the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and that long-term meditation practice is associated with an enhancement of cerebral areas related to attention.

From a clinical viewpoint, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has shown efficacy for many psychiatric and physical conditions and also for healthy subjects, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is mainly efficacious in reducing relapses of depression in patients with three or more episodes, Zen meditation significantly reduces blood pressure and Vipassana meditation shows efficacy in reducing alcohol and substance abuse in prisoners. However, given the low-quality designs of current studies it is difficult to establish whether clinical outcomes are due to specific or non-specific effects of MM.