Mindfulness meditation training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention
Norman A. S. Farb1,
Zindel V. Segal2,3 and
Adam K. Anderson1,4
+ Author Affiliations
1Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, 3560 Bathurst St, Toronto, ON, Canada M6A 2E1, 2Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, 250 College St, Toronto, ON, Canada M5T 1R8, 3Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 250 College St, Toronto, ON, Canada M5T 1R8 and 4Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 100 St George Street, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3G3
Correspondence should be addressed to Norman A. S. Farb, Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, 3560 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON, Canada M6A 2E1. E-mail: [email protected]
Received August 16, 2011.
Accepted June 2, 2012.
One component of mindfulness training (MT) is the development of interoceptive attention (IA) to visceral bodily sensations, facilitated through daily practices such as breath monitoring. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined experience-dependent functional plasticity in accessing interoceptive representations by comparing graduates of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course to a waitlisted control group. IA to respiratory sensations was contrasted against two visual tasks, controlling for attentional requirements non-specific to IA such as maintaining sensation and suppressing distraction. In anatomically partitioned analyses of insula activity, MT predicted greater IA-related activity in anterior dysgranular insula regions, consistent with greater integration of interoceptive sensation with external context. MT also predicted decreased recruitment of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) during IA, and altered functional connectivity between the DMPFC and the posterior insula, putative primary interoceptive cortex. Furthermore, meditation practice compliance predicted greater posterior insula and reduced visual pathway recruitment during IA. These findings suggest that interoceptive training modulates task-specific cortical recruitment, analogous to training-related plasticity observed in the external senses. Further, DMPFC modulation of IA networks may be an important mechanism by which MT alters information processing in the brain, increasing the contribution of interoception to perceptual experience.