Title: Absence of structural brain changes from mindfulness-based stress reduction: Two combined randomized controlled trials
Legend: Fig. 1. Change in right amygdala GMV and MBSR practice time. (A) There were no significant differences between groups in change in right amygdala GMV from baseline (T1) to postintervention period (T2). (B) MBSR practice time was associated with reduced right amygdala GMV significantly more than practice in the HEP active control. (C) FreeSurfer anatomical label from aseg for right amygdala (in green). Error envelopes represent 1 SE above and below the point estimates of the means, the dependent variables are adjusted for covariates (i.e., age, gender, sample, and total brain GMV), and adjusted data points are overlaid.
Citation: Kral, T., Davis, K., Korponay, C., Hirshberg, M. J., Hoel, R., Tello, L. Y., Goldman, R. I., Rosenkranz, M. A., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2022). Absence of structural brain changes from mindfulness-based stress reduction: Two combined randomized controlled trials. Science advances, 8(20), eabk3316. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abk3316
Abstract: Studies purporting to show changes in brain structure following the popular, 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course are widely referenced despite major methodological limitations. Here, we present findings from a large, combined dataset of two, three-arm randomized controlled trials with active and waitlist (WL) control groups. Meditation-naïve participants (n = 218) completed structural magnetic resonance imaging scans during two visits: baseline and postintervention period. After baseline, participants were randomly assigned to WL (n = 70), an 8-week MBSR program (n = 75), or a validated, matched active control (n = 73). We assessed changes in gray matter volume, gray matter density, and cortical thickness. In the largest and most rigorously controlled study to date, we failed to replicate prior findings and found no evidence that MBSR produced neuroplastic changes compared to either control group, either at the whole-brain level or in regions of interest drawn from prior MBSR studies.
About the Lab: Research in Davidson’s laboratory is focused on the neural bases of disordered and healthy emotion and emotional style and methods to promote human flourishing, including meditation and related contemplative practices. His studies have included persons of all ages, from birth though old age, and have also included individuals with disorders of emotion, such as mood and anxiety disorders and autism, as well as expert meditation practitioners with tens of thousands of hours of experience. His research uses a wide range of methods, including different varieties of MRI, positron emission tomography, electroencephalography, and modern genetic and epigenetic methods.
Investigator: Richard J Davidson, PhD