Mindfulness meditation practices are simple attentional exercises with significant philosophical foundations and far-reaching effects on domains of psychology including perception, emotion, and self-identity. Mindfulness has proven to be a useful psychological construct and mindfulness meditation practice a useful clinical intervention promoting wellness and relief from psychiatric distress. In the past decade a deeper understanding of the neural changes associated with mindfulness and mindfulness practices has come into focus. We are seeking to clarify this understanding further, assessing the neurophysiologic concomitants to meditation in long term meditation practitioners as well as the neurophysiologic bases to mindfulness practices in beginners and people with everyday stress seeking to achieve greater wellness and self-insight. In addition we are seeking to understand the neural mechanisms engaged in the successful mindfulness-based treatment of anxiety, depression, and addictive disorders. Exploring the neural basis to the efficacy of mindfulness practices will likely provide useful insights into how best to implement these practices clinically.
Some of the fundamental domains central to the brain and mind changes associated with mindfulness practices include increasing meta-cognitive monitoring and simultaneous disidentification with the self-narrative undergirding much of our subjective inner life (acting through modulations in the brain’s default mode network), enhancing interoceptive awareness (acting through insular cortex), and enhanced executive function underlying the capacity for intentional engagement and attentional switching (acting through modulations in the brain’s central executive network). We have recently demonstrated that intensive mindfulness practice in individuals with a history of major depressive disorder appears to increase attentional capacities at a very early stage of sensory processing, leading to enhanced encoding of neutral environmental stimuli and concomitant decreased encoding of emotionally threatening stimuli.
Here at the Brain and Creativity Institute we have an interest in expanding the inquiry of mindfulness and creativity to delineate the relationship between these two domains. In addition, in one project we are assessing the sensory and cognitive changes underlying the acquisition of mindfulness skills in individuals seeking to increase their general well-being and ability to navigate life’s stresses as well as in those with significant depression and anxiety. In another project we seek to understand the neurophysiologic concomitants to opiate addiction as well as the brain changes underlying the use of a mindfulness-centered approach to treat opiate addiction. A third project aims at identifying the specific neural network dynamics and psychological concomitants to experiences of thoughtless awareness through meditative practice.
Rael Cahn, MD, PhD
Jonas Kaplan, PhD
Assal Habibi, PhD
John Monterosso, PhD
Antonio Damasio, MD, PhD
Cahn BR, Polich J. (2006) Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin 132 (2): 180-211, 2006.
Jain FA, Walsh RN, Eisendrath SJ, Christensen S, Cahn BR. Critical Analysis of the Efficacy of Meditation Therapies for Acute and Subacute Phase Treatment of Depressive Disorders: A Systematic Review. Psychosomatics 56(2): Pages 140-52, 2015.
Cahn BR, Polich J. Meditation (Vipassana) and the P3a Event-Related Brain Potential. International Journal of Psychophysiology 72(1): Pages 51-60, 2009.
Cahn BR, Delorme A, Polich J. Occipital gamma activation during Vipassana meditation. Cognitive Processing 11(1): 39-56, 2010.
Cahn BR, Delorme A, Polich J. Event-related delta, theta, alpha, and gamma correlates to auditory oddball processing during Vipassana meditation. Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neurosciences. 8(1): Pages 100-11,