The accuracy of subjective reports, especially those involving introspection of one’s own internal processes, remains unclear. ‘Introspective accuracy’ (IA) can putatively be quantified by a variety of methods that combine introspective reports of subjective, mental phenomena with some objective (neural, physiological, or behavioral) measure of these same phenomena. A subject’s IA with respect to a given task is the degree to which their introspective reports agree or correlate with such objective measures. It has been hypothesized that introspective accuracy may be heightened in persons who engage in meditation practices, due to the highly introspective nature of such practices. Recently we found strong behavioral evidence in favor of this hypothesis in a large, representative cross-section of meditation practitioners using an introspection task based on body-awareness in practitioners from the Vipassana tradition. Pilot neuroimaging work traced enhanced introspective ability to several brain regions key to body awareness and introspection. We aim to expand this pilot study into a full-scale project and establish a more definitive link between brain structure, function, and heightened introspection in meditators vs. control subjects. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we will acquire 3D anatomical brain images and resting state functional connectivity data. We will assess the neural basis of introspective accuracy via morphometric neuroimaging methods, and investigate the possibility of more body- and present-centered awareness in meditators even during passive rest by examining patterns of functional connectivity.

Kieran Fox

University of British Columbia

Grantee, Reviewer