Meditation experience has previously been shown to improve performance on behavioral assessments of attention, but the neural bases of this improvement are unknown. Two prominent, strongly competing networks exist in the human cortex: a dorsal attention network, that is activated during focused attention, and a default mode network, that is suppressed during attentionally demanding tasks. Prior studies suggest that strong anti-correlations between these networks indicate good brain health. In addition, a third network, a ventral attention network, serves as a “circuit-breaker” that transiently disrupts and redirects focused attention to permit salient stimuli to capture attention. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to contrast cortical network activation between experienced focused attention Vipassana meditators and matched controls. Participants performed two attention tasks during scanning: a sustained attention task and an attention-capture task. Meditators demonstrated increased magnitude of differential activation in the dorsal attention vs. default mode network in a sustained attention task, relative to controls. In contrast, there were no evident attention network differences between meditators and controls in an attentional reorienting paradigm. A resting state functional connectivity analysis revealed a greater magnitude of anticorrelation between dorsal attention and default mode networks in the meditators as compared to both our local control group and a n
= 168 Human Connectome Project dataset. These results demonstrate, with both task- and rest-based fMRI data, increased stability in sustained attention processes without an associated attentional capture cost in meditators. Task and resting-state results, which revealed stronger anticorrelations between dorsal attention and default mode networks in experienced mediators than in controls, are consistent with a brain health benefit of long-term meditation practice.
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