Mindfulness meditation training has been previously shown to enhance behavioral measures of executive control (e.g., attention, working memory, cognitive control), but the neural mechanisms underlying these improvements are largely unknown. Here, we test whether mindfulness training interventions foster executive control by strengthening functional connections between dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC)—a hub of the executive control network—and frontoparietal regions that coordinate executive function.
Thirty-five adults with elevated levels of psychological distress participated in a 3-day randomized controlled trial of intensive mindfulness meditation or relaxation training. Participants completed a resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging scan before and after the intervention. We tested whether mindfulness meditation training increased resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) between dlPFC and frontoparietal control network regions.
Left dlPFC showed increased connectivity to the right inferior frontal gyrus (T = 3.74), right middle frontal gyrus (MFG) (T = 3.98), right supplementary eye field (T = 4.29), right parietal cortex (T = 4.44), and left middle temporal gyrus (T = 3.97, all p < .05) after mindfulness training relative to the relaxation control. Right dlPFC showed increased connectivity to right MFG (T = 4.97, p < .05).
We report that mindfulness training increases rsFC between dlPFC and dorsal network (superior parietal lobule, supplementary eye field, MFG) and ventral network (right IFG, middle temporal/angular gyrus) regions. These findings extend previous work showing increased functional connectivity among brain regions associated with executive function during active meditation by identifying specific neural circuits in which rsFC is enhanced by a mindfulness intervention in individuals with high levels of psychological distress.
From the Center for Neuroscience (Taren), University of Pittsburgh; Department of Psychology and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (Taren, Lindsay, Fairgrieve, Ferris, Creswell), Carnegie Mellon University; Department of Psychiatry (Greco), University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Department of Psychology (Brown), Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia; Department of Psychology and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (Gianaros, Rosen, Marsland), University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and California State University (Julson), Los Angeles, California.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Adrienne A. Taren, MD, PhD, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. E-mail: email@example.com
Received for publication May 3, 2016; revision received February 21, 2017.