The default mode network is a region in our brain discovered by scientists. They were researching the brain in relation to meditation. In this article, we will explore what it does, and how we can influence this region by doing meditation.
What is it?
While monitoring brain activity on EEG and fMRI, brain researchers found an interesting thing: there are specific regions in the brain that show higher activity when we’re doing nothing at all! When those same subjects were asked to meditate or do a complex mental task, the activity in those regions went down!
The default mode network consists mainly of these regions:
- mPFC (midline of the prefrontal cortex)
- PCC (post cingulate cortex)
When we are doing ‘nothing’, our brains are wandering. Wandering, in this case, consists mainly of self-related thinking: asking questions, wondering if he or she likes us, criticizing ourselves… So basically unpleasant thoughts that don’t do us much good.
By meditating, we can silence our default mode network
While meditating (focusing on the breath or reciting a mantra) the activity in the default mode network drops. This means our self-related thinking comes to a temporary stop. If we stop meditating, the activity goes back up. The same principle applies when we do a mental task. But if we compare the two, meditation seems to have a bigger impact.
If meditation is done consistently, over a longer time, some interesting things start to show up! We have to make a distinction between short-term and long-term meditators.
After only a 3-day intensive mindfulness course, research shows an increased connection between our default mode network and another region in our brain. This region is called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Because of this connection, we have more control over our ‘self-related thinking’. The stronger this connection gets, the more likely the DLPFC quiets our default mode.
So in a really short time frame, you can have some amazing results! Of course, these effects are likely to disappear if you stop meditating. That’s why consistent practice is so important.
In long-term meditators, the connection between the DLPFC and default mode continues to strengthen. On top of that, research shows a lessening in strength in the default mode network itself! We can say there is a lessening of ‘the self’.
So to wrap things up:
- In the short term, there is increased control over our self-related thinking.
- In the long term, we have a lessening of ‘the self’, indicating less self-related thoughts.
Want to know more about meditation? Check out this article!
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