This article is part of the Research Topic Non-Ordinary Mental Expressions

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 26 February 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00086

Nondirective meditation activates default mode network and areas associated with memory retrieval and emotional processing

  • 1Department of Medical Imaging, St. Olavs Hospital, Trondheim, Norway
  • 2Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
  • 3Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • 4Clinical Research Unit, Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia
  • 5Department of Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  • 6Centre for Pain and Complex Disorders, St. Olavs Hospital, Trondheim, Norway
  • 7Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  • 8Department of Cardiology, St. Olavs Hospital, Trondheim, Norway
  • 9Department of Anatomy, Institute of Basic Medical Science, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Nondirective meditation techniques are practiced with a relaxed focus of attention that permits spontaneously occurring thoughts, images, sensations, memories, and emotions to emerge and pass freely, without any expectation that mind wandering should abate. These techniques are thought to facilitate mental processing of emotional experiences, thereby contributing to wellness and stress management. The present study assessed brain activity by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 14 experienced practitioners of Acem meditation in two experimental conditions. In the first, nondirective meditation was compared to rest. Significantly increased activity was detected in areas associated with attention, mind wandering, retrieval of episodic memories, and emotional processing. In the second condition, participants carried out concentrative practicing of the same meditation technique, actively trying to avoid mind wandering. The contrast nondirective meditation > concentrative practicing was characterized by higher activity in the right medial temporal lobe (parahippocampal gyrus and amygdala). In conclusion, the present results support the notion that nondirective meditation, which permits mind wandering, involves more extensive activation of brain areas associated with episodic memories and emotional processing, than during concentrative practicing or regular rest.

Keywords: fMRI, meditation, attention, nondirective, brain, default mode network, mind wandering

Citation: Xu J, Vik A, Groote IR, Lagopoulos J, Holen A, Ellingsen Ø, Håberg AK and Davanger S (2014) Nondirective meditation activates default mode network and areas associated with memory retrieval and emotional processing. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:86. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00086

Received: 26 June 2013; Accepted: 04 February 2014;
Published online: 26 February 2014.

Edited by:

Enrico Facco, University of Padua, Italy

Reviewed by:

Gaelle Desbordes, Boston University, USA
Maria Engström, Linköping University, Sweden
Annalena Venneri, University of Sheffield, UK

Copyright © 2014 Xu, Vik, Groote, Lagopoulos, Holen, Ellingsen, Håberg and Davanger. 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: Svend Davanger, Institute of Basic Medical Science, University of Oslo, PO Box 1105 Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway e-mail: svend.davanger@medisin.uio.no

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