Researchers at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA, looked at the possible links in the brain that could cause the connection between meditation practice and psychological, physiological and cognitive well-being.

Using high-resolution MRI data of 44 subjects, they set out to examine the underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation.  (For those with a technical interest, they used voxel-based morphometry in association with a recently validated automated parcellation approach.)


They detected significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbito-frontal cortex (as well as in the right thalamus and left inferior temporal gyrus. In addition, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. 

Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators' singular abilities to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior.

The investigators further suggest that these regional alterations in brain structures constitute part of the underlying neurological correlate of long-term meditation, independent of the specific style and practice of meditation.

Future longitudinal analyses are necessary to establish the presence and direction of a causal link between meditation practice and brain anatomy.

Citation:  Luders E, Toga AW, Lepore N, Gaser C. The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matterNeuroimage. 2009 Apr 15;45 (3): pages 672-8