Your Brain on Meditation: Role of the Posterior Cingulate

If this topic interests you, I recommend you click on the “mindfulness” tag at the end of the article to bring up other posts on this and related topics.

What if you could enhance your well being? Just published by Judson Brewer, PhD, MD, medical director of the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, a solid piece of exploratory (and confirmatory) research on the role of a part of the brain called the posterior cingulate in meditation.

Meditators have been speculating about the states of mind evoked by meditative states and various relationships between meditating and well being. Turns out, the posterior cingulate is implicated, mostly negatively, in the subjective well being of meditators. What makes this interesting, is that the meditators could control the activity of this part of the brain, through real-time feedback.

There have been a number of studies that have shown that meditation lights up certain brain regions, that it’s associated with changes in brain thickness, and that it alters the way our brains respond to stressful stimuli. But meditation is complex, and it involves processes like attention, working memory, and self-monitoring. So, which components of meditation actually line up with specific brain regions?

Researchers found that the posterior cingulate increases activity during states of distraction, discontentment, and a particular kind of mental effort — all states implicated in unhappiness. A decrease in posterior cingulate activity was associated with states of effortlessness and contentment.

The implications of this are great. Not only does it mean that meditation can be used to enhance well-being, but eventually the technology could be used to help people to learn to meditate more quickly. Learning to meditate more efficiently also potentially means strengthening the “wiring” in those parts of the brain that bring about well being.

If you’re curious about Judson Brewer’s work, here’s his TEDx talk on meditation: You’re Already Awesome. Just Get Out of Your Own Way! which touches on the effects of tracking and training flow states, turning off the blah blah blah part of the brain.

Or an interview at Buddhist Geeks, Mapping the Mindful Brain.