“The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.” – Michio Kaku
There are billions of cells in the nervous system that you are born with. Since the number of cells doesn’t increase as we mature, in fact it decreases, it should be obvious that our increased mental capacity is due to the development of connections between these cells. Indeed, the intelligence of a normal individual human is not related to the number of cells in the brain, but rather to how they are connected. It should be clear that the connectivity of the brain is a key to its capacity to perform mental functions.
Mindfulness is known to increase the number of cells in certain areas of the nervous system and decrease the number of cells in other areas and also increase the connectivity of some areas to others (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/01/this-is-your-brain-on-meditation/). Since the interactions between neural areas is so central to determining the capabilities of the nervous system it is important to investigate exactly what areas and systems are activated together and which do not.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness is associated with intrinsic functional connectivity between default mode and salience networks”
Doll and colleagues investigated the relative activities of the intrinsic brain networks. Research has identified three distinct interconnected areas, networks that are associated with different mind states during meditation. When the meditator is focused on present experience the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex, the central executive network (CEN) was activated. During mind wandering the default mode network (DMN) was activated. When the individual became aware of mind wandering the salience network (SN) was activated.
Doll and colleagues found that the higher the mindfulness of the individual the greater the inverse relationship between the networks respective activities. That is, they found that the higher the activity of one network the lower the activity of the others. In other words the three networks had tendencies to inhibit each other’s activity. So, when areas associated with increased focus on the present moment were activated there was a reduction in activity in areas associated with mind wandering and detecting salience and visa-versa. The higher the individual’s level of mindfulness the greater the negative relationship.
Hence, mindfulness is associated with greater mutual inhibition between the three neural networks. The more mindful the individual is the greater the difference between the networks’ activities. This suggests that mindfulness is associated with neural system interactions, such that their activities become more distinct. When focused on the present moment mind wandering is much less in a mindful individual. Similarly, when mind wandering is present in that mindful individual, focus on the present moment is lower.
Thus the neural systems reflect the observations that mindful people have more focused attention on their mental state than less mindful people. Their brains appear better able to separate out and focus on specific mental states. Hence the brains of mindful people are tuned to and probably underlie their abilities to pay attention in the present moment nonjudgmentally.
So, practice mindfulness and get your neural networks more connected.
“The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous.” – Carl Sagan
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies