Cognitive effects of meditation practice and their neural correlates
Buddhist scriptures and meditation instructions predict that consequent meditation training will lead to a refinement of the ability to observe and regulate one’s own cognitive processes. Studying the changes of cognitive processes that are related to meditation practice will help us understanding how such practices work in principle and how they change the way a meditator may experience the world – how they relate to “inner” phenomena like thoughts, feelings, emotions or sensations as well as “outer” phenomena that are perceived.
As cognitive neuroscience is inherently interested in understanding these processes the refinement of ones ability to observe the ever-changing flow of cognitive states and of the related processes may offer rich insights into the nature of cognition.
Here an important first question to be asked is, whether the predicted changes in cognition (e.g. enhanced perception or attention, improved meta-cognitive abilities) can be confirmed empirically. Furthermore, we may investigate whether they accompanied by particular changes in brain activity.
Once these fundamental points have been established (assuming that they can be established) we may then go on to ask whether the direct, introspective observations of one’s cognitive processes offer further insight into the nature of perception/cognition itself.
Furthermore, it will be important to explore if and to what extent such meditation practices can be employed to help individuals who – for a variety of reasons – may exhibit deficits in cognitive abilities.
With this general roadmap in mind, we are currently running several projects linking meditation practice and cognitive processing:
Healthy Ageing: Neuroprotective effects of mindfulness practice
Distinguishing different meditation states