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  Structural changes in socio-affective networks: Multi-modal MRI findings in long-term meditation practitioners

Engen, H. G., Bernhardt, B. C., Skottnik, L., Ricard, M., & Singer, T. (2018). Structural changes in socio-affective networks: Multi-modal MRI findings in long-term meditation practitioners. Neuropsychologia, 116(Part A), 26-33. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.08.024.

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Engen, Haakon G.1, 2, Author              
Bernhardt, Boris C.1, 3, Author              
Skottnik, Léon4, 5, Author              
Ricard, Matthieu6, Author
Singer, Tania1, Author              
1Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_634552              
2MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge,, ou_persistent22              
3Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University, Montréal, QC, Canada, ou_persistent22              
4Department of Cognitive Neuroscience, Maastricht University, the Netherlands, ou_persistent22              
5Brain Innovation, Maastricht, the Netherlands, ou_persistent22              
6Mind and Life Institute, Hadley, MA, USA, ou_persistent22              


Free keywords: Structural MRI; Cortical thickness; Meditation; Loving-kindness; Social brain
 Abstract: Our goal was to assess the effects of long-term mental training in socio-affective skills on structural brain networks. We studied a group of long-term meditation practitioners (LTMs) who have focused on cultivating socio-affective skills using loving-kindness and compassion meditation for an average of 40k hours, comparing these to meditation-naïve controls. To maximize homogeneity of prior practice, LTMs were included only if they had undergone extensive full-time meditation retreats in the same center. MRI-based cortical thickness analysis revealed increased thickness in the LTM cohort relative to meditation-native controls in fronto-insular cortices. To identify functional networks relevant for the generation of socio-affective states, structural imaging analysis were complemented by fMRI analysis in LTMs, showing amplitude increases during a loving-kindness meditation session relative to non-meditative rest in multiple prefrontal and insular regions bilaterally. Importantly, functional findings partially overlapped with regions of cortical thickness increases in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior insula, suggesting that these regions may play a central role in the generation of emotional states relevant for the meditative practice. Our multi-modal MRI approach revealed structural changes in LTMs who have cultivated loving-kindness and compassion for a significant period of their life in functional networks activated by these practices. These preliminary cross-sectional findings motivate future longitudinal work studying brain plasticity following the regular practice of skills aiming at enhancing human altruism and prosocial motivation.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2017-08-182016-12-312017-08-192017-08-312018-07-31
 Publication Status: Published in print
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: Peer
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.08.024
PMID: 28842274
Other: Epub 2017
 Degree: -



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Project information

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Project name : Plasticity of the Empathic Brain: Structural and Functional MRI Studies on the Effect of Empathy Training on the Human Brain and Prosocial Behaviour / EMPATHICBRAIN
Grant ID : 205557
Funding program : Funding Programme 7
Funding organization : European Commission (EC)
Project name : -
Grant ID : RGPIN-2017-03897
Funding program : -
Funding organization : Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
Project name : -
Grant ID : NI17-039
Funding program : -
Funding organization : SickKids Foundation
Project name : -
Grant ID : 375106
Funding program : -
Funding organization : Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
Project name : -
Grant ID : 34902
Funding program : Chercheur Boursier
Funding organization : FRQ-S

Source 1

Title: Neuropsychologia
Source Genre: Journal
Publ. Info: Oxford : Pergamon
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 116 (Part A) Sequence Number: - Start / End Page: 26 - 33 Identifier: ISSN: 0028-3932
CoNE: https://pure.mpg.de/cone/journals/resource/954925428258