Skip to main content Accessibility help

The psychological and neurophysiological concomitants of mindfulness forms of meditation

  • Belinda Ivanovski (a1) (a2) and Gin S. Malhi (a3) (a4)



To provide a comprehensive review and evaluation of the psychological and neurophysiological literature pertaining to mindfulness meditation.


A search for papers in English was undertaken using PsycINFO (from 1804 onward), MedLine (from 1966 onward) and the Cochrane Library with the following search terms: Vipassana, Mindfulness, Meditation, Zen, Insight, EEG, ERP, fMRI, neuroimaging and intervention. In addition, retrieved papers and reports known to the authors were also reviewed for additional relevant literature.


Mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions appear to be effective in the treatment of depression, anxiety, psychosis, borderline personality disorder and suicidal/self-harm behaviour. Mindfulness meditation per se is effective in reducing substance use and recidivism rates in incarcerated populations but has not been specifically investigated in populations with psychiatric disorders. Electroencephalography research suggests increased alpha, theta and beta activity in frontal and posterior regions, some gamma band effects, with theta activity strongly related to level of experience of meditation; however, these findings have not been consistent. The few neuroimaging studies that have been conducted suggest volumetric and functional change in key brain regions.


Preliminary findings from treatment outcome studies provide support for the application of mindfulness-based interventions in the treatment of affective, anxiety and personality disorders. However, direct evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation per se in the treatment of psychiatric disorders is needed. Current neurophysiological and imaging research findings have identified neural changes in association with meditation and provide a potentially promising avenue for future research.


Corresponding author

Belinda Ivanovski, Black Dog Institute Building, Prince of Wales Hospital, Hospital Road, Randwick, NSW 2031 Australia. Tel: ++61 2 9382 2997; Fax: ++61 2 9382 8208; E-mail:


Hide All
1.Taylor, E. Introduction. In: Murphy, M, Donovan, S, eds. The physical and psychological effects of meditation. Sausalito, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1999.
2.Goleman, D. The meditative mind: the varieties of meditative experience. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Perigee Books, 1988.
3.Goleman, D. The varieties of the meditative experience. New York: EP Dutton, 1977.
4.Cayoun, BA. Mindfulness-integrated cognitive behaviour therapy (MiCBT): general principles and guidelines. In Press.
5.Kato, H. Zen and psychology. Jpn Psychol 2005;47:125136.
6.Andresen, J. Meditation meets behavioural medicine. The story of experimental research on meditation. J Consciousness Studies 2000;7:1774.
7.Shapiro, D, Walsh, RN. Meditation: classical and contemporary perspectives. New York: Aldine, 1984.
8.Wallace, BA. The Buddhist tradition of Samatha: methods for refining and examining consciousness. J Consciousness Studies 1999;6:175187.
9.Germer, CK, Siegel, RD, Fulton, PR. Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press, 2005.
10.Baer, RA. Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: a conceptual and empirical review. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 2003;10:125143.
11.Cahn, BR, Polich, J. Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP and neuroimaging studies. Psychol Bull 2006;132:180211.
12.Murphy, M, Donovan, S. The physical and psychological effects of meditation. Sausalito, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1999.
13.Bishop, SR. What do we really know about mindfulness-based stress reduction? Psychosom Med 2002;64:7184.
14.Germer, CK. Mindfulness: what is it? What does it matter? In: Germer, CK, Siegel, RD, Fulton, PR, eds. Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press, 2005:327.
15.Gunaratana, B. Mindfulness in plain English. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2002.
16.Kabat-Zinn, J. Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 2003;10:144156.
17.Kabat-Zinn, J. Mindfulness-based stress reduction. Constructivism in the Human Sciences 2003;8:73107.
18.Kabat-Zinn, J. An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 1982;4:3347.
19.Teasdale, JD, Segal, Z, Williams, JMG. How does cognitive therapy prevent depressive relapse and why should attentional control (mindfulness) training help? Behav Res Ther 1995;33:2539.
20.Davidson, RJ, Kabat-Zinn, J, Schumacher, Jet al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med 2003;65:564570.
21.Kabat-Zinn, J, Lipworth, L, Burney, R. The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. J Behav Med 1985;8:163190.
22.Kabat-Zinn, J, Lipworth, L, Burney, R, Sellers, W. Four-year follow-up of a meditation-based program for the self-regulation of chronic pain: treatment outcomes and compliance. Clin J Pain 1987;2:159173.
23.Kabat-Zinn, J, Massion, AO, Kristeller, Jet al. Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry 1992;149:936943.
24.Kabat-Zinn, J, Wheeler, E, Light, Tet al. Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing photo therapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosom Med 1998;60:625632.
25.Miller, JJ, Fletcher, K, Kabat-Zinn, J. Three year follow-up and clinical implications of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 1995;17:192200.
26.Kristeller, JL, Hallet, CB. An exploratory study of a meditation-based intervention for binge eating disorder. J Health Psychol 1999;4:357363.
27.Linehan, MM. Cognitive behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press, 1993.
28.Hayes, SC, Strosahl, KD, Wilson, KG. Acceptance and commitment therapy: an experiential approach to behaviour change. New York: Guilford, 1999.
29.Roemer, L, Orsillo, SM. Expanding our conceptualization of and treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: Integrating mindfulness/acceptance-based approaches with existing cognitive-behavioral models. Clin Psychol: Sci Prac 2002;9:5458.
30.Segal, ZV, Williams, JMG, Teasdale, JD. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New York: Guilford Press, 2002.
31.Williams, JMG, Swales, M. The use of mindfulness-based approaches for suicidal patients. Arch Suicide Res 2004;8:315329.
32.Schwartz, JM, Stoessel, PW, Baxter, LR Jr, Martin, KM, Phelps, ME. Systematic changes in cerebral glucose metabolic rate after successful behavior modification treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1996;53:109113.
33.Bogels, SM, Sijbers, GFVM, Voncken, M. Mindfulness and task concentration training for social phobia: a pilot study. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly J Cognit Psychother 2006;20:3344.
34.Ma, SH, Teasdale, JD. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: replication and exploration of differential relapse prevention effects. J Consult Clin Psychol 2004;72:3140.
35.Teasdale, JD, Williams, JM, Soulsby, JM, Segal, ZV, Ridgeway, VA, Lau, MA. Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. J Consul Clin Psychol 2000;68:615623.
36.Williams, J, Teasdale, J, Segal, Z, Soulsby, J. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy reduces overgeneral autobiographical memory in formerly depressed patients. J Abnormal Psychol 2000;109:150155.
37.Finucane, A, Mercer, SW. An exploratory mixed methods study of the acceptability and effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for patients with active depression and anxiety in primary care. BMC Psychiatry 2006;6:14.
38.Ramel, W, Goldin, PR, Carmona, PE, McQuaid, JR. The effects of mindfulness meditation on cognitive processes and affect in patients with past depression. Cogn Ther Res 2004;28:433455.
39.van den Bosch, LMC, Koeter, MW, Stijnen, T, Verheul, R, Van Den Brink, W. Sustained efficacy of dialectical behaviour therapy for borderline personality disorder. Behav Res Ther 2005;43:12311241.
40.Astin, JA. Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation. Psychother Psychosom 1997;66:97106.
41.Massion, AO, Teas, J, Hebert, JR, Wertheimer, MD, Kabat-Zinn, J. Meditation, melatonin, and breast/prostate cancer: hypothesis and preliminary data. Med Hypotheses 1995;44:3946.
42.Shapiro, SL, Schwartz, GE, Bonner, G. Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on medical and premedical students. J Behav Med 1998;21:581599.
43.Williams, KA, Kolar, MM, Reger, BE, Pearson, JC. Evaluation of a wellness-based mindfulness stress reduction intervention: a controlled trial. Am J Health Promot 2001;15:422432.
44.Williams, JMG, Duggan, DS, Crane, C, Fennell, MJV. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for prevention of recurrence of suicidal behaviour. J Clin Psychol 2006;62:201210.
45.Teasdale, JD, Segal, ZV, Williams, JMG. Mindfulness training and problem formulation. Clin Psychol: Sci Prac 2003;10:157160.
46.Teasdale, JD. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. In: Yiend, J, ed. Cognition, emotion, and psychopathology. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004: 270289.
47.Krisanaprakornkit, T, Krisanaprakornkit, W, Piyavhatkul, N, Laopaiboon, M. Meditation therapy for anxiety disorders. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006; Issue 1: Art. No.:CD004998.pub004992. DOI: 004910.001002/14651858.CD14004998.pub14651852.
48.Raskin, M, Bali, LR, Peeke, HV. Muscle biofeedback and transcendental meditation. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1980;37:9397.
49.Benson, H. The relaxation response. New York: Avon, 1975.
50.Shannahoff-Khalsa, D, Ray, LE, Levine, S, Gallen, CC, Schwartz, BJ, Sidorowich, JJ. Randomised controlled trial of yogic meditation techniques for patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. CNS Spectr 1999;4:3447.
51.Gaudiano, BA, Herbert, JD. Acute treatment of inpatients with psychotic symptoms using acceptance and commitment therapy: pilot results. Behav Res Ther 2006;44:415437.
52.Wicksell, RK, Dahl, J, Magnusson, B, Olsson, GL. Using acceptance and commitment therapy in the rehabilitation of an adolescent female with chronic pain: a case example. Cognitive Behav Pract 2005;12:415423.
53.Orsillo, SM, Roemer, L, Block-Lerner, J, Lejeune, C, Herbert, JD. Act with anxiety disorders. In: Hayes, SC, Strosahl, KD, eds. A practical guide to acceptance and commitment therapy. New York: Springer Science and Business Media, 2005: 103132.
54.Beck, A, Rush, J, Shaw, B, Emery, G. Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford Press, 1979.
55.Folke, F, Parling, T. Acceptance and commitment therapy in group format for individuals who are unemployed and on sick leave suffering from depression: A randomized controlled trial. Dissertation: University of Uppsala, Sweden.
56.Zettle, R, Raines, J. Group cognitive and contextual therapies in treatment of depression. J Clin Psychol 1989;45:438445.
57.Bach, P, Hayes, SC. The use of acceptance and commitment therapy to prevent the rehospitalisation of psychotic patients: a randomised controlled trial. J Consult Clin Psychol 2002;70:11291139.
58.Gaudiano, BA, Herbert, JD. Acute treatment of inpatients with psychotic symptoms using acceptance and commitment therapy: Pilot results. Beh Res Ther 2006;44:415437.
59.Scheel, KR. The empirical basis of dialectical behaviour therapy: summary, critique and implications. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 2000;7:6886.
60.Katz, LY, Cox, BJ, Gunasekara, S, Miller, AL. Feasability of dialectical behaviour therapy for suicidal adolescent inpatients. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2004;43:276282.
61.Kroger, C, Schweiger, U, Sipos, Vet al. Effectiveness of dialectical behaviour therapy for borderline personality disorder in an inpatient setting. Behav Res Ther 2006;44:12111217.
62.Linehan, MM, Armstrong, HE, Suarez, A, Allmon, D, Heard, HL. Cognitive behavioural treatment of chronically parasuicidal borderline patients. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1991;48:10601064.
63.Linehan, MM, Comtois, KA, Murray, AMet al. Two-year randomised controlled trial and follow-up of dialectical behaviour therapy vs therapy by experts for suicidal behaviours and borderline personality disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2006;63:757766.
64.Linehan, MM, Schmidt, H, Dimeff, L, Craft, C, Kanter, J, Comtois, KA. Dialectical behaviour therapy for patients with borderline personality disorder and drug dependence. Am J Addict 1999;8:279292.
65.Verheul, R, Van den Bosch, LMC, Koeter, MW, De Ridder, MAJ, Stijnen, T, Van den Brink, W. Dialectical behaviour therapy for women with borderline personality disorder. Br J Psychiatry 2003;182:135140.
66.Chandiramani, K, Verma, SK, Dhar, PL. Psychological effects of Vipassana on Tihar Jail inmates. Unpublished manuscript, 1998; Cited in Bowen, S, Witkiewitz, K, Dillworth, TMet al. Mindfulness meditation and substance abuse in an incarcerated population. Psychol Addict Behav 2006;20:343347.
67.Kumar, T. Vipassana meditation courses in Tihar Jail. Paper presented at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India; 1995 April.
68.Vora, RL. Jail courses and Vipassana (Baroda jail). Presented at an international seminar of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India; 1995 April.
69.Bowen, S, Witkiewitz, K, Dillworth, TMet al. Mindfulness meditation and substance use in an incarcerated population. Psychol Addict Behav 2006;20:343347.
70.Watkins, E, Teasdale, JD. Adaptive and maladaptive self-focus in depression. J Affect Disord 2004;82:18.
71.Shapiro, SL, Carlson, LE, Astin, JA, Freedman, B. Mechanisms of mindfulness. J Clin Psychol 2006;62:373386.
72.Maupin, EW. Individual differences in response to a Zen meditation exercise. J Consult Psychol 1965;29:139145.
73.Valentine, ER, Sweet, PLG. Meditation and attention: a comparison of the effects of concentrative and mindfulness meditation on sustained attention. Ment Health Relig Cult 1999;2:5970.
74.Linden, W. Practicing of meditation by school children and their levels of field dependence-independence, test anxiety and reading achievement. J Consult Clin Psychol 1973;41:139143.
75.Rani, NJ, Rao, PV. Meditation and attention regulation. J Indian Psychol 1996;14:2630.
76.Kubose, SK. An experimental investigation of psychological aspects of meditation. Psychologia 1976;19:110.
77.Harrison, LJ, Manocha, R, Rubia, K. Sahaja yoga meditation as a family treatment programme for children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry 2004;9:479497.
78.Wilkins, AJ, Shallice, T, Mccarthy, R. Frontal lesions and sustained attention. Neuropsychologia 1987;25:359365.
79.Davidson, RJ, Goleman, D, Schwartz, GE. Attentional and affective concomitants of meditation: a cross-sectional study. J Abnorm Psychol 1976;85:235238.
80.Lesh, TV. Zen meditation and the development of empathy in counselors. J Humanistic Psychol 1970;10:3974.
81.Brown, DP, Forte, M, Dysart, M. Visual sensitivity and mindfulness meditation. Percept Mot Skills 1984;58:775784.
82.Brown, DP, Forte, M, Dysart, M. Differences in visual sensitivity among mindfulness meditators and non-meditators. Percept Mot Skills 1984;58:727733.
83.Carter, OL, Presti, DE, Callistemon, C, Ungerer, Y, Liu, GB, Pettigrew, JD. Meditation alters perceptual rivalry in Tibetan Buddhist monks. Curr Biol 2005;15:R412R413.
84.Lou, HC, Kjaer, TW, Friberg, L, Wildschiodtz, G, Holm, S, Nowak, M. A 150-h2o pet study of meditation and the resting state of normal consciousness. Hum Brain Mapp 1999;7:98105.
85.Herzog, H, Lele, VR, Kuwert, T, Langen, KJ, Kops, ER, Feinendegen, LE. Changed pattern of regional glucose metabolism during yoga meditative relaxation. Neuropsychobiology 1990/1991;23:182187.
86.Kjaer, TW, Bertelsen, C, Piccini, P, Brooks, D, Alving, J, Lou, HC. Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Cogn Brain Res 2002;13:255259.
87.Lazar, SW, Bush, G, Gollub, RL, Fricchione, GL, Khalsa, G, Benson, H. Functional brain mapping of the relaxation response and meditation. Neuroreport 2000;11:15811585.
88.Newberg, A, Alavi, A, Baime, M, Pourdehnad, M, Santanna, J, d’Aquili, E. The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during the complex cognitive task of meditation: a preliminary spect study. Psychiatry Res 2001;106:113122.
89.Takahashi, T, Murata, T, Hamada, Tet al. Changes in EEG and autonomic nervous activity during meditation and their association with personality traits. Int J Psychophysiol 2005;55:199207.
90.Aftanas, LI, Golosheikin, SA. Changes in cortical activity in altered states of consciousness: the study of meditation by high-resolution eeg. Hum Physiol 2003;29:143151.
91.Lutz, A, Greischar, LL, Rawlings, NB, Ricard, M, Davidson, RJ. Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2004;101:1636916373.
92.Dunn, BR, Hartigan, JA, Mikulas, WL. Concentration and mindfulness meditations: unique forms of consciousness? Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 1999;24:147165.
93.Lehmann, D, Faber, PL, Achermann, P, Jeanmonod, D, Gianotti, LRR, Pizzagalli, D. Brain sources of EEG gamma frequency during volitionally meditation-induced, altered states of consciousness, and experience of the self. Psychiatry Res 2001;108:111121.
94.Newberg, AB, Iversen, J. The neural basis of the complex mental task of meditation: Neurotransmitter and neurochemical considerations. Medical Hypotheses 2003;61:282291.
95.Hart, W. The art of living: Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka. San Francisco: Harper, 1987.
96.Stern, RM, Ray, WJ, Quigley, KS. Psychophysiological recording, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
97.Schacter, DL. EEG theta waves and psychological phenomena: a review and analysis. Biol Psychol 1977;5:4782.
98.Aftanas, L, Lotova, NV, Koshkarov, VI, Makhnev, VP, Mordvinstev, YN, Popov, SA. Non-linear dynamic complexity of the human EEG during evoked emotions. Int J Psychophysiol 1998;28:6376.
99.Aftanas, LI, Golocheikine, SA. Human anterior and frontal midline theta and lower alpha reflect emotionally positive state and internalized attention: high-resolution EEG investigation of meditation. Neurosci Lett 2001;310:5760.
100.Basar, E, Basar-Eroglu, C, Karakas, S, Schurmann, M. Gamma, alpha, delta, and theta oscillations govern cognitive processes. Int J Psychophysiol 2001;39:241248.
101.Dietl, T, Dirlich, G, Vogl, L, Lechner, C, Strian, F. Orienting response and frontal midline theta activity: a somatosensory spectral perturbation study. Clin Neurophysiol 1999;110:12041209.
102.Shaw, JC. Intention as a component of the alpha-rhythm response to mental activity. Int J Psychophysiol 1996;24:723.
103.Klimesch, W, Doppelmayr, M, Russegger, H, Pachinger, T, Schwaiger, J. Induced alpha band power changes in human EEG and attention. Neurosci Lett 1998;244:7376.
104.Lazar, SW, Rosman, IS, Vangel, Met al. Functional brain imaging of mindfulness and mantra-based meditation. Washington, DC: Society for Neuroscience, 2003.
105.Lazar, SW, Kerr, CE, Wasserman, RHet al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport 2005;16:18931897.
106.Kasamatsu, A, Hirai, T. An electroencephalographic study on the Zen meditation (zaZen). Folia Psychiatrica et Neurologica Japonica 1966;20:315336.
107.Becker, DE, Shapiro, D. Physiological responses to clicks during Zen, yoga, and tm meditation. Psychophysiology 1981;18:694699.
108.Lo, PC, Huang, ML, Chang, KM. EEG alpha blocking correlated with perception of inner light during Zen meditation. Am J Chin Med 2003;31:629642.
109.Murata, T, Takahashi, T, Hamada, Tet al. Individual trait anxiety levels characterizing the properties of Zen meditation. Neuropsychobiology 2004;50:189194.
110.Delmonte, MM. Physiological responses during meditation and rest. Biofeedback Self Regul 1984;9:181200.
111.Jevning, R, Wallace, R, Beidebach, M. The physiology of meditation: a review: a wakeful hypometabolic integrated response. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 1992;16:415424.
112.Schuman, M. The psychophysiological model of meditation and altered states of consciousness: a critical review. In: Davidson, JM, Davidson, RJ, eds. The psychobiology of consciousness. New York: Plenum Press, 1980: 333378.
113.West, MA. Meditation and the EEG. Psychol Med 1980;10:369375.
114.Woolfolk, RL. Psychophysiological correlates of meditation. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1975;32:13261333.
115.Murata, T, Koshino, Y, Omori, Met al. Quantitative EEG study on Zen meditation (zaZen). Japanese Journal of Psychiatry & Neurology 1994;48:881890.
116.Faber, PL, Lehmann, D, Gianotti, LRR, Kaelin, M, Pascual-Marqui, RD. Scalp and intacerebral (LORETA) theta and gamma EEG coherence in meditation. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Society for Neuronal Regulation; 2004 April; Winterthur, Switzerland.
117.Kubota, Y, Sato, W, Toichi, Met al. Frontal midline theta rhythm is correlated with cardiac autonomic activities during the performance of an attention demanding meditation procedure. Cogn Brain Res 2001;11:281287.
118.Lo, PC, Leu, JS. Quantification of pseudo-periodicity of alpha rhythm in meditation EEG. Journal of Medical & Biological Engineering 2005;25:713.
119.Chang, KM, Lo, PC. Hurst exponents and linear regression with an application to low-power beta characterization in meditation EEG. Am J Electroneurodiagn Technol 2005;45:130138.
120.Baerentsen, KB, Hartvig, NV, Stodkilde-Jorgensen, H, Mammen, J. Onset of meditation explored with fMRI. NeuroImage 2001;13 (6, Suppl. 1): 297297.
121.Ritskes, R, Ritskes-Hoitinga, M, Stodkilde-Jorgensen, H, Baerentsen, K, Hartman, T. MRI scanning during Zen meditation: the picture of enlightenment? Constructivism in the Human Sciences 2003;8:8590.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed