Meditation and Mind-Brain Plasticity

Meditation and Mind-Brain Plasticity

  • English language proficiency required
  • Amsterdam

Website Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Ruben Laukkonen, PhD.

Postdoctoral researcher working with Professor Heleen  Slagter.

I’m researching how long-term meditation practice affects the most basic processes of the brain, and thereby shedding light on just how malleable humans are. Meditation can involve long periods of intensive training, sometimes ten hours a day for many months or even years. Thus, in order to understand the extent to which it is possible to voluntarily change one’s mind and brain, meditators are a compelling population to study. As a general paradigm, I’m motivated to bridge the  phenomenology of meditation with third person tools of science, so we use neuroimaging (primarily  EEG), behavioural, as well as self-report methods. Some programming experience, ideally Python and/or MATLAB is necessary.

Research plans 

Over the next few years we will be conducting experimental work that includes novice and  (possibly) expert meditators. Most experiments will involve EEG (dependent on COVID measures), and we aim to use the neural data to infer changes in information processing of different stimuli during meditation. For example, is it possible that the ‘meaning’ behind words disappears during meditation practice? To answer  this question, we present different sounds and words during meditation and use analysis techniques such as decoding, and paradigms such as the steady-state evoked potential, so that we can  understand what the brain is doing without requiring us to disturb the meditation. These exciting  new methods allow us to probe the brain without probing behaviour or self-reports. The objective  neural measures can then be linked to the subjective experience that the meditator has, which they can report after the experiment has finished.

From a theoretical perspective, we draw on a ‘grand unifying theory of the brain’ known as  predictive processing. Here is an interesting TED talk that describes some aspects of this theory:

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