In addition, Weng and colleagues focused on how to make the analysis of neuroscience data more inclusive, too. Called the “Intersectional Neuroscience” framework, the approach featured in the study has two aims – first, to build community engagement with a group of diverse participants through more inclusive recruitment practices. And second, to adapt neuroscience research methods to be more inclusive of underrepresented groups by using algorithms to help scientists doing analysis on brain image data to decrease the need to rely on group averages of neural activity, which may not apply to every individual.
Throughout the partnership, researchers developed person-centered screening and study materials and collaborated with leaders and members of the East Bay Meditation Center to recruit 15 diverse meditators (80 percent racial and ethnic minorities, 53 percent gender identity and sexual orientation minorities) for a neuroscience study. The team held a focus group and community meetings with people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQIA+ people, and individuals with disabilities and chronic health conditions to gain a broad perspective on the study and recruitment materials.
The second method to improve inclusivity was to consider ways to accommodate neural diversity that allows more people from underrepresented groups to take part in the study. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) screening often excludes individuals with “non-normal” brain structure and function, including those who are left-handed, and those with mental health conditions and neurological disorders.
To be more inclusive, the research team (also including Center for Healthy Minds faculty member Larissa Duncan) used neuroscience methods that are more focused on each individual to accommodate neural diversity, leading to fewer people being excluded from taking part in the study. Researchers were able to identify participants’ mental states during breath-focused meditation, which collects more data from each person to find their unique brain function that represents attention to internal experiences like the breath. The data was used to determine attention for individual participants during meditation – such as the amount of time they paid attention to their breath or how often their mind wandered.