Eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction [MBSR] training can alter intrinsic functional connectivity in the brain in ways that may improve attentional focus and enhance sensory awareness, according to a study published in NeuroImage (2011; doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.02.034).

Researchers from the Center for Neurobiology of Stress at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), conducted the study to determine whether MBSR training would prove effective in altering intrinsic connectivity networks (ICNs) in the brain. Growing research evidence shows that mindfulness meditation is associated with changes in attention and perceptual processing circuits. Study of ICNs provides information about the organization of functional systems in the brain. The UCLA investigators believed that ICNs associated with attention and sensory processing would show training-related changes after subjects participated in MBSR training.

The study authors randomly assigned 32 healthy women to either an 8-week MBSR program, as designed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, or an 8-week waiting period. After 8 weeks, all subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging, during which they rested with eyes closed and were instructed to pay attention to sounds in the scanner environment. Data analysis showed that the MBSR training group had significantly more functional connectivity within auditory and visual networks during the test.

According to Lisa A. Kilpatrick, lead study author and assistant researcher, the significant takeaway finding from this study is that “MBSR-trained individuals appear to show better resource allocation, allowing a more efficient use of attention.” The authors suggested that further research could explore how different meditation practices influence sensory and attentional processes.