Meditation, Boredom, Self-Experience

Meditation

Our lab has also begun to investigate meditation practitioners. We are interested in the various behavioral improvements that meditation might engender, and particularly in the neural basis for these cognitive and emotional benefits. In one study we have shown that long-term meditation practitioners appear to provide more accurate, reliable introspective reports about their inner experience (Fox, Zakarauskas, Dixon, Ellamil, Thompson, and Christoff, 2012). In subsequent meta-analyses, we have analyzed the differences in the brain structure of meditation practitioners that have been found using morphometric neuroimaging (Fox, Nijeboer, Dixon, Floman, Ellamil, Rumak, Sedlmeier, & Christoff, 2014), and the neural correlates of different types of meditation (Fox, Dixon, Nijeboer, Girn, Floman, Lifshitz, Ellamil, Sedlmeier, & Christoff, 2016) as revealed by functional neuroimaging.

Moreover, in order to further our investigation into inherently subjective mental processes such as spontaneous thought, we have begun to explore employing the heightened introspective abilities of advanced contemplative practitioners to gain more refined subjective reports (a notion referred to as ‘neurophenomenology’). To date, we have published two studies employing a neurophenomenological approach. This approach allowed us to conduct the first-ever studies that were able to empirically investigate the brain dynamics related to the onset of a particular thought. One employed fMRI in this vein (Ellamil et al. 2016) and one employed EEG (Girn et al. 2017).

Boredom

Boredom is a ubiquitous mental state that is yet poorly understood. In an attempt to organize research on boredom and to provide guidelines on future directions, we recently reviewed the psychological and neural literature on this phenomenon (Raffaeli et al. 2017).

Self-Experience

One of the most intimate aspects of regular waking consciousness is the experience of embodied selfhood. We have a strong sense of having an individual identity that is aligned with our bodies and which exhibits temporal continuity. Work in our lab has contributed to the investigation of such self-experience. In one paper, we propose that agentic self-experience may depend on self-specifying processes that implement a functional self/non-self distinction in perception, action, cognition and emotion (Christoff et al. 2011). In a more recent paper (Girn and Christoff, in prep), we review work on the phenomenology of alterations of self that can be induced by psychedelic substances, and suggest that psychedelics may be a useful pharmacological tool in the investigation of self-experience.