Meditation, mindfulness and executive control: the importance of emotional acceptance and brain-based performance monitoring

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2013 Jan;8(1):85-92. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss045. Epub 2012 Apr 15.


Previous studies have documented the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on executive control. What has been lacking, however, is an understanding of the mechanism underlying this effect. Some theorists have described mindfulness as embodying two facets-present moment awareness and emotional acceptance. Here, we examine how the effect of meditation practice on executive control manifests in the brain, suggesting that emotional acceptance and performance monitoring play important roles. We investigated the effect of meditation practice on executive control and measured the neural correlates of performance monitoring, specifically, the error-related negativity (ERN), a neurophysiological response that occurs within 100 ms of error commission. Meditators and controls completed a Stroop task, during which we recorded ERN amplitudes with electroencephalography. Meditators showed greater executive control (i.e. fewer errors), a higher ERN and more emotional acceptance than controls. Finally, mediation pathway models further revealed that meditation practice relates to greater executive control and that this effect can be accounted for by heightened emotional acceptance, and to a lesser extent, increased brain-based performance monitoring.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging / instrumentation
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Psychophysiology
  • Stroop Test