Reduced mind wandering in experienced meditators and associated EEG correlates

Exp Brain Res. 2018 Sep;236(9):2519-2528. doi: 10.1007/s00221-016-4811-5. Epub 2016 Nov 4.

Abstract

One outstanding question in the contemplative science literature relates to the direct impact of meditation experience on the monitoring of internal states and its respective correspondence with neural activity. In particular, to what extent does meditation influence the awareness, duration and frequency of the tendency of the mind to wander. To assess the relation between mind wandering and meditation, we tested 2 groups of meditators, one with a moderate level of experience (non-expert) and those who are well advanced in their practice (expert). We designed a novel paradigm using self-reports of internal mental states based on an experiential sampling probe paradigm presented during ~1 h of seated concentration meditation to gain insight into the dynamic measures of electroencephalography (EEG) during absorption in meditation as compared to reported mind wandering episodes. Our results show that expert meditation practitioners report a greater depth and frequency of sustained meditation, whereas non-expert practitioners report a greater depth and frequency of mind wandering episodes. This is one of the first direct behavioral indices of meditation expertise and its associated impact on the reduced frequency of mind wandering, with corresponding EEG activations showing increased frontal midline theta and somatosensory alpha rhythms during meditation as compared to mind wandering in expert practitioners. Frontal midline theta and somatosensory alpha rhythms are often observed during executive functioning, cognitive control and the active monitoring of sensory information. Our study thus provides additional new evidence to support the hypothesis that the maintenance of both internal and external orientations of attention may be maintained by similar neural mechanisms and that these mechanisms may be modulated by meditation training.

Keywords: Alpha; Cognitive control; Meditation; Mind wandering; Top-down processing; fm theta.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Ecological Momentary Assessment
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*