Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 06 August 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00440

Effortless awareness: using real time neurofeedback to investigate correlates of posterior cingulate cortex activity in meditators' self-report

  • 1Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA
  • 2Contemplative Studies Initiative, Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Neuroscience, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 3Department of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, NY, USA
  • 4Department of Family Medicine, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

Neurophenomenological studies seek to utilize first-person self-report to elucidate cognitive processes related to physiological data. Grounded theory offers an approach to the qualitative analysis of self-report, whereby theoretical constructs are derived from empirical data. Here we used grounded theory methodology (GTM) to assess how the first-person experience of meditation relates to neural activity in a core region of the default mode network—the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). We analyzed first-person data consisting of meditators' accounts of their subjective experience during runs of a real time fMRI neurofeedback study of meditation, and third-person data consisting of corresponding feedback graphs of PCC activity during the same runs. We found that for meditators, the subjective experiences of “undistracted awareness” such as “concentration” and “observing sensory experience,” and “effortless doing” such as “observing sensory experience,” “not efforting,” and “contentment,” correspond with PCC deactivation. Further, the subjective experiences of “distracted awareness” such as “distraction” and “interpreting,” and “controlling” such as “efforting” and “discontentment,” correspond with PCC activation. Moreover, we derived several novel hypotheses about how specific qualities of cognitive processes during meditation relate to PCC activity, such as the difference between meditation and “trying to meditate.” These findings offer novel insights into the relationship between meditation and mind wandering or self-related thinking and neural activity in the default mode network, driven by first-person reports.

Keywords: neurophenomenology, grounded theory, real time fMRI, meditation, posterior cingulate cortex, self-report, introspection, self-referential processing

Citation: Garrison KA, Santoyo JF, Davis JH, Thornhill TA IV, Kerr CE and Brewer JA (2013) Effortless awareness: using real time neurofeedback to investigate correlates of posterior cingulate cortex activity in meditators' self-report. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:440. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00440

Received: 18 April 2013; Paper pending published: 24 May 2013;
Accepted: 17 July 2013; Published online: 06 August 2013.

Edited by:

Wendy Hasenkamp, Mind and Life Institute, USA

Reviewed by:

Giuseppe Pagnoni, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy
Jean-Philippe Lachaux, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, France

Copyright © 2013 Garrison, Santoyo, Davis, Thornhill, Kerr and Brewer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Judson A. Brewer, Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, 300 George St. Suite 901, New Haven, CT 06511, USA e-mail: judson.brewer@yale.edu

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