Event-related Potential Correlates of Mindfulness Meditation Competence

January 1, 2016
Helané Wahbeh, ND, MCR

Atchley, R.M., Klee, D., Memmott, T., Goodrich, E., Wahbeh, H., & Oken, B.S. (2016). Event-related potential correlates of mindfulness meditation competence. Neuroscience, 320, 83-92.


OBJECTIVE: This cross-sectional study evaluated event-related potentials (ERPs) across three groups: naive, novice, and experienced meditators as potential physiological markers of mindfulness meditation competence.

METHODS: Electroencephalographic (EEG) data were collected during a target tone detection task and a Breath Counting task. The Breath Counting task served as the mindfulness meditation condition for the novice and experienced meditator groups. Participants were instructed to respond to target tones with a button press in the first task (Tones), and then ignore the primed tones while Breath Counting. The primary outcomes were ERP responses to target tones, namely the N2 and P3, as markers of stimulus discrimination and attention, respectively.

RESULTS: As expected, P3 amplitudes elicited by target tones were attenuated within groups during the Breath Counting task in comparison to the Tones task (p<.001). There was a task by group interaction for P3 (p=.039). Both meditator groups displayed greater change in peak-to-trough P3 amplitudes, with higher amplitudes during the Tones condition and more pronounced reductions in P3 amplitudes during the Breath Counting meditation task in comparison to the naive group.

CONCLUSIONS: Meditators had stronger P3 amplitude responses to target tones when instructed to attend to the tones, and a greater attenuation of P3 amplitudes when instructed to ignore the same tones during the Breath Counting task. This study introduces the idea of identifying ERP markers as a means of measuring mindfulness meditation competence, and results suggest this may be a valid approach. This information has the potential to improve mindfulness meditation interventions by allowing objective assessment of mindfulness meditation quality.

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