Electroencephalographic correlates of states of concentrative meditation

Int J Psychophysiol. 2016 Dec:110:27-39. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2016.09.020. Epub 2016 Oct 1.


Meditative techniques aim for and meditators report states of mental alertness and focus, concurrent with physical and emotional calm. We aimed to determine the electroencephalographic (EEG) correlates of five states of Buddhist concentrative meditation, particularly addressing a correlation with meditative level. We studied 12 meditators and 12 pair-matched meditation-naïve participants using high-resolution scalp-recorded EEG. To maximise reduction of EMG, data were pre-processed using independent component analysis and surface Laplacian transformed data. Two non-meditative and five meditative states were used: resting baseline, mind-wandering, absorptions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (corresponding to four levels of absorption and an absorption with a different object of focus, otherwise equivalent to level 4; these five meditative states produce repeatable, distinctly different experiences for experienced meditators). The experimental protocol required participants to experience the states in the order listed above, followed immediately by the reverse. We then calculated EEG power in standard frequency bands from 1 to 80Hz. We observed decreases of central scalp beta (13-25Hz), and central low gamma (25-48Hz) power in meditators during deeper absorptions. In contrast, we identified increases in frontal midline and temporo-parietal theta power in meditators, again, during deeper absorptions. Alpha activity was increased over all meditative states, not depth-related. This study demonstrates that the subjective experiences of deepening meditation partially correspond to measures of EEG. Our results are in accord with prior studies on non-graded meditative states. These results are also consistent with increased theta correlating with tightness of focus, and reduced beta/gamma with the desynchronization associated with enhanced alertness.

Keywords: Absorptions; Buddhist meditation; Focused attention; Independent component analysis; Principal component analysis; Spectral analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Buddhism
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography Phase Synchronization / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gamma Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*