Functional neuroanatomy of meditation: A review and meta-analysis of 78 functional neuroimaging investigations

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2016 Jun;65:208-28. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.03.021. Epub 2016 Mar 28.


Meditation is a family of mental practices that encompasses a wide array of techniques employing distinctive mental strategies. We systematically reviewed 78 functional neuroimaging (fMRI and PET) studies of meditation, and used activation likelihood estimation to meta-analyze 257 peak foci from 31 experiments involving 527 participants. We found reliably dissociable patterns of brain activation and deactivation for four common styles of meditation (focused attention, mantra recitation, open monitoring, and compassion/loving-kindness), and suggestive differences for three others (visualization, sense-withdrawal, and non-dual awareness practices). Overall, dissociable activation patterns are congruent with the psychological and behavioral aims of each practice. Some brain areas are recruited consistently across multiple techniques-including insula, pre/supplementary motor cortices, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and frontopolar cortex-but convergence is the exception rather than the rule. A preliminary effect-size meta-analysis found medium effects for both activations (d=0.59) and deactivations (d=-0.74), suggesting potential practical significance. Our meta-analysis supports the neurophysiological dissociability of meditation practices, but also raises many methodological concerns and suggests avenues for future research.

Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Focused attention; Functional magnetic resonance imaging; Meditation; Meta-analysis; Open monitoring.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Meditation
  • Neuroanatomy / methods

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