Mindfulness meditation training alters cortical representations of interoceptive attention
Norman A. S. Farb, Zindel V. Segal, and Adam K. Anderson
One component of mindfulness training (MT) is the development of interoceptive attention (IA) to visceral bodily sensations, facilitated through daily practices such as breath monitoring. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined experience-dependent functional plasticity in accessing interoceptive representations by comparing graduates of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course to a waitlisted control group. IA to respiratory sensations was contrasted against two visual tasks, controlling for attentional requirements non-specific to IA such as maintaining sensation and suppressing distraction. In anatomically partitioned analyses of insula activity, MT predicted greater IA-related activity in anterior dysgranular insula regions, consistent with greater integration of interoceptive sensation with external context. MT also predicted decreased recruitment of the dorsome- dial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) during IA, and altered functional connectivity between the DMPFC and the posterior insula, putative primary interoceptive cortex. Furthermore, meditation practice compliance predicted greater posterior insula and reduced visual pathway recruitment during IA. These findings suggest that interoceptive training modulates task-specific cortical recruitment, analogous to training-related plasticity observed in the external senses. Further, DMPFC modulation of IA networks may be an important mechanism by which MT alters information processing in the brain, increasing the contribution of interoception to perceptual experience.