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Decreased electrophysiological activity represents the conscious state of emptiness in meditation


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Title: Decreased electrophysiological activity represents the conscious state of emptiness in meditation
Authors: Hinterberger, Thilo / Schmidt, Stephanie / Kamei, Tsutomu / Walach, Harald
Issue Date: 17-Feb-2014
Publisher: Frontiers Research Foundation
Citation: Frontiers in Psychology, 5(FEB), 99; 2014
Abstract: Many neuroscientific theories explain consciousness with higher order information processing corresponding to an activation of specific brain areas and processes. In contrast, most forms of meditation ask for a down-regulation of certain mental processing activities while remaining fully conscious. To identify the physiological properties of conscious states with decreased mental and cognitive processing, the electrical brain activity (64 channels of EEG) of 50 participants of various meditation proficiencies was measured during distinct and idiosyncratic meditative tasks. The tasks comprised a wakeful "thoughtless emptiness (TE)," a "focused attention," and an "open monitoring" task asking for mindful presence in the moment and in the environment without attachment to distracting thoughts. Our analysis mainly focused on 30 highly experienced meditators with at least 5 years and 1000 h of meditation experience. Spectral EEG power comparisons of the TE state with the resting state or other forms of meditation showed decreased activities in specific frequency bands. In contrast to a focused attention task the TE task showed significant central and parietal gamma decreases (p < 0.05). Compared to open monitoring TE expressed decreased alpha and beta amplitudes, mainly in parietal areas (p < 0.01). TE presented significantly less delta (p < 0.001) and theta (p < 0.05) waves than a wakeful closed eyes resting condition. A group of participants with none or little meditation practice did not present those differences significantly. Our findings indicate that a conscious state of TE reached by experienced meditators is characterized by reduced high-frequency brain processing with simultaneous reduction of the low frequencies. This suggests that such a state of meditative conscious awareness might be different from higher cognitive and mentally focused states but also from states of sleep and drowsiness.
Keywords: Consciousness / Decreased neural processing / EEG / Meditation / Thoughtless emptiness
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10069/34397
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00099
Rights: © 2014 Hinterberger, Schmidt, Kamei and Walach. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Type: Journal Article
Text Version: publisher
Appears in Collections:Articles in academic journal

Citable URI : http://hdl.handle.net/10069/34397

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