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Study of the electroencephalographic correlates of mind wandering and meditation

Abstract : Trying to focus our attention on any given physical or mental object, we soon re- alize it cannot be kept indefinitely focused and soon drifts towards other thoughts or sensations, a phenomenon called mind wandering. Interestingly, ancient traditions of meditation practices have developed a large variety of methods aiming at developing the awareness of mind wandering episodes and training the mind to remain focused. It is important to point out that the knowledge of the focus of attention is a type of information that is private to the subject and that can only be assessed using methods that take into account first-person perspectives. During my thesis, I studied both the mind wandering and the meditation mental states in an effort to better understand what is happening in the brain when someone meditates. First, regardless of the med- itation tradition, mind wandering is ever present during meditation and it seemed like an ideal starting point for studying meditation. It is also a phenomenon that is not unique to meditation and is present whenever a person attempts to focus. Using a novel EEG protocol, we show that mind wandering episodes are accompanied by in- creased amplitude at low frequencies in the delta (1-3Hz) and theta (4-7Hz) frequency bands as well as a reduction of pre-attentive sensory processing as shown by the anal- ysis event-related potentials. These results indicate that mind wandering is associated with a lower vigilance level, resembling early stages of drowsiness. These results are consistent with some Buddhist texts on meditation, in which mind wandering is con- sidered to be a state of relative sleep where the mind is not aware. Then, we realized a comparative study of EEG activity during meditation to attempt to sort out the ori- gin of the divergent results found in the literature. We recorded the spontaneous EEG activity of 3 groups of meditators from 3 different meditation traditions in addition to a non-meditator group using the same protocol and equipment. We showed that all groups of meditators had higher 60-110Hz gamma amplitude when compared to the controls during meditation, possibly indicating different attentional processes in med- itators. No differences were found between the mental control state and the meditative state in meditators, suggesting that we were observing trait rather than state effects of meditation. Overall, our study emphasizes the need to better define what could be the best control mental state for meditation. During this work, I also explored the method- ologies allowing the collection of accurate subjective data. Our work brings new data in the field of consciousness, mind wandering and meditation study, but the road will be long before we fully understand the mechanisms underlying our inner life.
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Contributor : Catherine Marlot Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Tuesday, October 16, 2012 - 3:36:41 PM
Last modification on : Monday, July 4, 2022 - 9:52:22 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 7:35:11 AM


  • HAL Id : tel-00739681, version 2


Claire Braboszcz. Study of the electroencephalographic correlates of mind wandering and meditation. Neurons and Cognition [q-bio.NC]. Université Paul Sabatier - Toulouse III, 2012. English. ⟨NNT : ⟩. ⟨tel-00739681v2⟩



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