Mindfulness related changes in grey matter: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Brain Imaging Behav. 2021 Oct;15(5):2720-2730. doi: 10.1007/s11682-021-00453-4. Epub 2021 Feb 24.


Knowing target regions undergoing strfuncti changes caused by behavioural interventions is paramount in evaluating the effectiveness of such practices. Here, using a systematic review approach, we identified 25 peer-reviewed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies demonstrating grey matter changes related to mindfulness meditation. An activation likelihood estimation (ALE) analysis (n = 16) revealed the right anterior ventral insula as the only significant region with consistent effect across studies, whilst an additional functional connectivity analysis indicates that both left and right insulae, and the anterior cingulate gyrus with adjacent paracingulate gyri should also be considered in future studies. Statistical meta-analyses suggest medium to strong effect sizes from Cohen's d ~ 0.8 in the right insula to ~ 1 using maxima across the whole brain. The systematic review revealed design issues with selection, information, attrition and confirmation biases, in addition to weak statistical power. In conclusion, our analyses show that mindfulness meditation practice does induce grey matter changes but also that improvements in methodology are needed to establish mindfulness as a therapeutic intervention.

Keywords: Grey matter; MRI; Meta‐analysis; Mindfulness meditation; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Gray Matter* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mindfulness*