The Basic Neuroscience of Mindfulness
Mapping The Meditative Mind

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Translational Research Studies

In order to investigate the basic neural mechanisms by which mindfulness practices function, David Vago and the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory (FNL) have created an integrative theoretical framework and systems-based neurobiological model that explains the mechanisms by which mindfulness reduces biases related to self-processing and creates a sustainable healthy mind. Mindfulness is described through systematic mental training that develops meta-awareness (self-awareness), an ability to effectively modulate one’s behavior (self-regulation), and a positive relationship between self and other that transcends self-focused needs and increases prosocial characteristics (self-transcendence) like empathy and altruistic behavior.

This framework of self-awareness, -regulation, and –transcendence (S-ART) illustrates a method for becoming aware of the conditions that cause (and remove) distortions or biases. This model is now published in a special issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, [Link] and in the New York Academy of Sciences [Link].  Dr. Vago and his team within the FNL have created a research initiative, Mapping the Meditative Mind, to test his model across the spectrum of experience (with meditation) and tradition of training.

Mapping The Meditative Mind

Neurobiological Substrates Underlying Modalities of Awareness in Mindfulness Practice. This initial study proposes to investigate novice and expert practitioners across the spectrum of experience. The study aims to identify:

  1. neurobiological substrates of intrinsic brain activity in the context of distinct meditative states;
  2.  capacity for iconic memory, an incidental measure of non-conscious visual memory. We will look at 5 modality-specific states of meditative tranquility  that replace mental imagery, internal talk, viscerosomatic and emotional sensations with restful analogues. This study is a partnership with Buddhist teacher, Shinzen Young.

Click here to learn more about Vanderbilt’s translational research studies.