While meditation has drawn much attention in cognitive neuroscience, the neural mechanisms underlying its emotional processing remains elusive. Sant Mat meditators were recruited, who adopt a loving-kindness mode of meditation along with a vegetarian diet and an alcohol-restricted lifestyle and novices. We assessed their State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and scanned their amygdala reactivity in response to an explicit and implicit (backward masked) perception of fearful and happy faces. In contrast with novices, meditators reported lower STAI scores. Meditators showed stronger amygdala reactivity to explicit happiness than to fear, whereas novices exhibited the opposite pattern. The amygdala reactivity was reduced in meditators regardless of implicit fear or happiness. Those who had more lifetime practice in meditation reported lower STAI and showed a weaker amygdala response to fear. Furthermore, the amygdala in meditators, relative to novices, had a stronger positive functional connectivity with the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) to explicit happiness, but a more negative connectivity with the insula and medial orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) to explicit fear. Mediation analysis indicated the amygdala reactivity as the mediator for the linkage between meditation experience and trait anxiety. The findings demonstrate the neural correlates that underpin the beneficial effects of meditation in Sant Mat. Long-term meditation could be functionally coupled with the amygdala reactivity to explicit and implicit emotional processing, which would help reduce anxiety and potentially enhance well-being.
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