Meditation refers to a family of mental training practices that are designed to familiarize the practitioner with specific types of mental processes. One of the most basic forms of meditation is concentration meditation, in which sustained attention is focused on an object such as a small visual stimulus or the breath. In age-matched participants, using functional MRI, we found that activation in a network of brain regions typically involved in sustained attention showed an inverted u-shaped curve in which expert meditators (EMs) with an average of 19,000 h of practice had more activation than novices, but EMs with an average of 44,000 h had less activation. In response to distracter sounds used to probe the meditation, EMs vs. novices had less brain activation in regions related to discursive thoughts and emotions and more activation in regions related to response inhibition and attention. Correlation with hours of practice suggests possible plasticity in these mechanisms.
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