Meditation affects a personâs brain function long after the
act of meditation is over, according to new research.
âThis is the first time meditation training has been shown to
affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state,â said Gaelle Desbordes, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at
Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Boston University
Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology.
âOverall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial
changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.â
The researchers began the study with the hypothesis that
meditation can help control emotional responses.
During meditation, a part of the brain called the amygdala
(known for the processing of emotional stimuli) showed
decreased activity. However, when the participants were shown
images of other people that were either good, bad, or neutral
for a practice known as âcompassion meditation,â the amygdala
was exceptionally responsive.
The subjects were able to focus their attention and greatly
reduce their emotional reactions. And over an eight-week period,
the participants retained this ability.
Even when they were not engaged in a meditative state,
their emotional responses were subdued, and they experienced
more compassion for others when faced with disturbing images.
Around the same time, another group at Harvard Medical School
(HMS) began to study the effect of meditation on retaining information. Their hypothesis was that people who meditate have
more control over alpha rhythm â" a brain wave thought to screen
out everyday distractions, allowing for more important information
to be processed.
âMindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous
mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,â said
Catherine Kerr of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging
and the Osher Research Center, both at HMS.
âOur discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted
the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.â
Both studies used participants that had no previous experience
Over an eight-week period and a 12-week period, both groups showed
a marked change in their daily normal brain function, while they
were meditating and while they were involved in medial activities.
Some researchers believe that meditation might be the key to
help ease off dependency on pharmaceutical drugs.
âThe implications extend far beyond meditation,â said Kerr.
âThey give us clues about possible ways to help people better regulate a brain rhythm that is deregulated in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions.â
Source: Harvard University
By Traci Pedersen Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on June 23, 2013
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