The mind of the meditator: the influence of focused attention meditation on subsystems of the default network implicated in mind wandering
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About 10 years ago there was a new brain network discovered completely unexpected. The discovery of this network was a fortunate accident when researchers compared the activity of the brain during a task in the (functional MRI) scanner with activity of the brain when persons lied at rest in the scanner. Particular regions in the brain spontaneously increased their activity together during rest and decreased activity when participants performed a certain task in de scanner. At first it was ignored, but later researchers started to look into this surprising activity. This was the start of a big debate in the field of Neuroscience. How is it possible that a brain at rest, without an explicit task, is so active? What could it possibly be doing? This network is called default mode network (referring to a standard mode of the brain). Recent studies have found not one default network, but three distinct default networks, referred to as subsystems. Researchers think that these individual subsystems play a different role in daydreaming (mind wandering). Mind wandering is the term for the thoughts a person has when not performing a specific task that requires attention but just let his or hers thoughts stray. You are normally not conscious of these thoughts, as this inner chatter goes on in your head almost the whole day. This article will discuss the literature in order to see how these different default network subsystems relate to specific processes of mind wandering. This review will also look into the literature about mind wandering and meditation. The practice of meditation (sitting still observing one’s own mind) seems to influence the thoughts you have when daydreaming. Researchers also investigated the brain of meditators to see which brain areas become active during meditation. Experienced meditators are masters in observing their own thoughts. This review will look if the brain regions that become active in meditators are the same regions of the default network subsystems. This is very important as it might provide new insight into methods of mental training that can enhance human wellbeing.