Distinct neural activity associated with focused-attention meditation and loving-kindness meditation

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e40054. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040054. Epub 2012 Aug 15.

Abstract

This study examined the dissociable neural effects of ānāpānasati (focused-attention meditation, FAM) and mettā (loving-kindness meditation, LKM) on BOLD signals during cognitive (continuous performance test, CPT) and affective (emotion-processing task, EPT, in which participants viewed affective pictures) processing. Twenty-two male Chinese expert meditators (11 FAM experts, 11 LKM experts) and 22 male Chinese novice meditators (11 FAM novices, 11 LKM novices) had their brain activity monitored by a 3T MRI scanner while performing the cognitive and affective tasks in both meditation and baseline states. We examined the interaction between state (meditation vs. baseline) and expertise (expert vs. novice) separately during LKM and FAM, using a conjunction approach to reveal common regions sensitive to the expert meditative state. Additionally, exclusive masking techniques revealed distinct interactions between state and group during LKM and FAM. Specifically, we demonstrated that the practice of FAM was associated with expertise-related behavioral improvements and neural activation differences in attention task performance. However, the effect of state LKM meditation did not carry over to attention task performance. On the other hand, both FAM and LKM practice appeared to affect the neural responses to affective pictures. For viewing sad faces, the regions activated for FAM practitioners were consistent with attention-related processing; whereas responses of LKM experts to sad pictures were more in line with differentiating emotional contagion from compassion/emotional regulation processes. Our findings provide the first report of distinct neural activity associated with forms of meditation during sustained attention and emotion processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Behavior
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Cognition
  • Emotions
  • Empathy
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Love
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Meditation / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grant support

This study was supported by research funding from the Centre of Buddhist Studies of The University of Hong Kong and the Research Grant Council General Research Fund (Ref: HKU747612H). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.