Meditation experience predicts negative reinforcement learning and is associated with attenuated FRN amplitude

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2019 Apr;19(2):268-282. doi: 10.3758/s13415-018-00665-0.


Focused attention meditation (FAM) practices are cognitive control exercises where meditators learn to maintain focus and attention in the face of distracting stimuli. Previous studies have shown that FAM is both activating and causing plastic changes to the mesolimbic dopamine system and some of its target structures, particularly the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and striatum. Feedback-based learning also depends on these systems and is known to be modulated by tonic dopamine levels. Capitalizing on previous findings that FAM practices seem to cause dopamine release, the present study shows that FAM experience predicts learning from negative feedback on a probabilistic selection task. Furthermore, meditators exhibited attenuated feedback-related negativity (FRN) as compared with nonmeditators and this effect scales with meditation experience. Given that reinforcement learning and FRN are modulated by dopamine levels, a possible explanation for our findings is that FAM practice causes persistent increases in tonic dopamine levels which scale with amount of practice, thus altering feedback processing.

Keywords: ACC; Dopamine; FRN; Feedback-learning bias; Feedback-related negativity; Meditation; Reinforcement learning; Striatum.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Waves*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine