Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Research - Influence of meditation on anti-correlated networks in the brain

I have posted work from Zoran Josipovic before - he is looking at meditation and the brain from a variety of perspectives. This new article published in the open access Frontiers in Human Neuroscience looks at the impact of various forms of attentional awareness on the normal competition between intrinsic (internal and self-related) and extrinsic (external and environment-related) brain functions. Focused awareness increases that competition while nondual awareness decreases it, compared to baseline fixated attention states.

The whole study can be read online for free, or downloaded as a PDF.

Influence of meditation on anti-correlated networks in the brain

  • 1Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY, USA
  • 2Neurobiology Department, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel
  • 3Department of Psychology and SCAN, Columbia University, New York, USA
Human experiences can be broadly divided into those that are external and related to interaction with the environment, and experiences that are internal and self-related. The cerebral cortex appears to be divided into two corresponding systems: an “extrinsic” system composed of brain areas that respond more to external stimuli and tasks and an “intrinsic” system composed of brain areas that respond less to external stimuli and tasks. These two broad brain systems seem to compete with each other, such that their activity levels over time is usually anti-correlated, even when subjects are “at rest” and not performing any task. This study used meditation as an experimental manipulation to test whether this competition (anti-correlation) can be modulated by cognitive strategy. Participants either fixated without meditation (fixation), or engaged in non-dual awareness (NDA) or focused attention (FA) meditations. We computed inter-area correlations (“functional connectivity”) between pairs of brain regions within each system, and between the entire extrinsic and intrinsic systems. Anti-correlation between extrinsic vs. intrinsic systems was stronger during FA meditation and weaker during NDA meditation in comparison to fixation (without mediation). However, correlation between areas within each system did not change across conditions. These results suggest that the anti-correlation found between extrinsic and intrinsic systems is not an immutable property of brain organization and that practicing different forms of meditation can modulate this gross functional organization in profoundly different ways.

Citation: Josipovic Z, Dinstein I, Weber J and Heeger DJ. (2012). Influence of meditation on anticorrelated networks in the brain. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 5:183. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00183

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