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.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a structured 8-week group program teaching mindfulness meditation and mindful yoga exercises. MBSR aims to help participants develop nonjudgmental awareness of moment-to-moment experience. Fibromyalgia is a clinical syndrome with chronic pain, fatigue, and insomnia as major symptoms. Efficacy of MBSR for enhanced well-being of fibromyalgia patients was investigated in a 3-armed trial, which was a follow-up to an earlier quasi-randomized investigation. A total of 177 female patients were randomized to one of the following: (1) MBSR, (2) an active control procedure controlling for nonspecific effects of MBSR, or (3) a wait list. The major outcome was health-related quality of life (HRQoL) 2 months post-treatment. Secondary outcomes were disorder-specific quality of life, depression, pain, anxiety, somatic complaints, and a proposed index of mindfulness. Of the patients, 82% completed the study. There were no significant differences between groups on primary outcome, but patients overall improved in HRQoL at short-term follow-up (P=0.004). Post hoc analyses showed that only MBSR manifested a significant pre-to-post-intervention improvement in HRQoL (P=0.02). Furthermore, multivariate analysis of secondary measures indicated modest benefits for MBSR patients. MBSR yielded significant pre-to-post-intervention improvements in 6 of 8 secondary outcome variables, the active control in 3, and the wait list in 2. In conclusion, primary outcome analyses did not support the efficacy of MBSR in fibromyalgia, although patients in the MBSR arm appeared to benefit most. Effect sizes were small compared to the earlier, quasi-randomized investigation. Several methodological aspects are discussed, e.g., patient burden, treatment preference and motivation, that may provide explanations for differences. In a 3-armed randomized controlled trial in female patients suffering from fibromyalgia, patients benefited modestly from a mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention.