The brain structure correlates of individual differences in trait mindfulness: a voxel-based morphometry study

Neuroscience. 2014 Jul 11;272:21-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.04.051. Epub 2014 May 4.


Mindfulness is the state of being attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present, which is beneficial for reducing stress-related symptoms and improving mental and physical health. Previous studies have demonstrated that meditation practice can improve individuals' mindfulness through modifying functions and structures of multiple brain regions, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), insula, fronto-limbic network, posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and temporal-parietal junction. However, little is known about the neuroanatomical correlates of trait mindfulness. In the current study, we used voxel-based morphometry to investigate the neural correlates of individual differences in trait mindfulness by correlating the gray matter (GM) volume of each voxel across the whole brain with trait mindfulness measured by the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale in a large sample of young adults (N=247). We found that individuals who were more mindful of the present had greater GM volume in the right hippocampus/amygdala and bilateral ACC, but less GM volume in bilateral PCC and the left orbitofrontal cortex. These results suggest that trait mindfulness is associated with brain regions involved in executive attention, emotion regulation, and self-referential processing, through which mindfulness may exert its beneficial effects on psychological and physical well-being.

Keywords: emotion regulation; executive attention; self-referential processing; trait mindfulness; voxel-based morphometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Individuality*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mindfulness*
  • Young Adult