Meditation may help the brain 'turn down the volume' on distractions
The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to "turn down the volume" on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among study participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program than in a control group. The report will appear in the journal Brain Research Bulletin and has been released online.
"Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall," says Catherine Kerr, PhD, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report. "Our 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."
Brain cells use particular frequencies or waves to regulate the flow of information in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. One frequency, the alpha rhythm, is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight and sound in the brain's outmost layer, called the cortex, where it helps to suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations and regulate the flow of sensory information between brain regions.
Previous studies have suggested that attention can be used to regulate the alpha rhythm and, in turn, sensory perception. When an individual anticipates a touch, sight or sound, the focusing of attention toward the expected stimulus induces a lower alpha wave height in cortical cells that would handle the expected sensation, which actually "turns up the volume" of those cells. At the same time the height of the alpha wave in cells that would handle irrelevant or distracting information increases, turning the volume in those regions down. Because mindfulness meditation in which practitioners direct nonjudgmental attention to their sensations, feelings and state of mind has been associated with improved performance on attention-based tasks, the research team decided to investigate whether individuals trained in the practice also exhibited enhanced regulation of the timing and intensity of alpha rhythms.
The study tested 12 healthy volunteers with no previous experience in meditation. Half completed the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program developed at the University of Massachusetts. The other half were asked not to engage in any type of meditation during the study period. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), an imaging technique that detects the location of brain activity with extreme precision, the researchers measured participants' alpha rhythms before, during and after the eight-week period. Specifically, they measured alpha rhythms in the brain area that processes signals from the left hand while participants were asked to direct their attention to either their left hand or left foot. Participants' abilities to adjust the alpha rhythm in cortical cells associated with the hand, depending on where their attention was directed, were recorded during the milliseconds immediately after they received an attention cue.
Although all participants had showed some attention-related alpha rhythm changes at the beginning of the study, at the end of the eight weeks, those who completed the mindfulness meditation training made faster and significantly more pronounced attention-based adjustments to the alpha rhythm than the non-meditators did. "This result may explain reports that mindfulness meditation decreases pain perception," says Kerr. "Enhanced ability to turn the alpha rhythm up or down could give practitioners' greater ability to regulate pain sensation."
The study also sheds light on how meditation may affect basic brain function, explains Stephanie Jones, PhD, of the Martinos Center, co-lead author of the paper. "Given what we know about how alpha waves arise from electrical currents in sensory cortical cells, these data suggest that mindfulness meditation practitioners can use the mind to enhance regulation of currents in targeted cortical cells. The implications extend far beyond meditation and give us clues about possible ways to help people better regulate a brain rhythm that is dysregulated in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions." Kerr is an instructor in Medicine and Jones an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS).
Provided by Massachusetts General Hospital
- Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks Jan 21, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Study: Meditators 'surprisingly' alert Jul 06, 2007 | not rated yet | 0
- Mindfulness meditation slows progression of HIV, study shows Jul 24, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Demystifying meditation -- brain imaging illustrates how meditation reduces pain Apr 05, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Power of meditation in response to stress: new study Oct 19, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
6 hours ago Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
Alcohol and acetaminophen
May 13, 2013 Edit: sorry for the typo in the title , can't edit I looked around on google quite a bit and it's very hard to find precise information on the...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
You're standing near an airport luggage carousel and your bag emerges on the conveyor belt, prompting you to spring into action. How does your brain make the shift from passively waiting to taking action when ...
Neuroscience 14 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—Native peoples in regions where cameras are uncommon sometimes react with caution when their picture is taken. The fear that something must have been stolen from them to create the photo ...
Neuroscience 1 hour ago | 2 / 5 (1) | 0 |
In a remote fishing community in Venezuela, a lone fisherman sits on a cliff overlooking the southern Caribbean Sea. This man –– the lookout –– is responsible for directing his comrades on the water, ...
Neuroscience 3 hours ago | 4 / 5 (1) | 0 |
Many brain researchers cannot see the forest for the trees. When they use electrodes to record the activity patterns of individual neurons, the patterns often appear chaotic and difficult to interpret.
Neuroscience 5 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—We spend about a third of our life asleep, but why we need to do so remains a mystery. In a recent publication, researchers at University of Surrey and University College London suggest a new hypothesis, ...
Neuroscience 6 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
The level of immunity to the recently circulating H7N9 influenza virus in an urban and rural population in Vietnam is very low, according to the first population level study to examine human immunity to the virus, which was ...
1 hour ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Researchers at Emory University have identified a protein that stimulates a pair of "orphan receptors" found in the brain, solving a long-standing biological puzzle and possibly leading to future treatments for neurological ...
1 hour ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Widely available in pharmacies and health stores, phosphatidylserine is a natural food supplement produced from beef, oysters, and soy. Proven to improve cognition and slow memory loss, it's a popular treatment for older ...
38 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Prostaglandin analogues (PGAs), drugs which lower intraocular pressure, are often the first line of treatment for people with glaucoma, but their use is not without risks. PGAs have long been associated with blurred vision, ...
1 hour ago | not rated yet | 0
Youth who had a schoolmate die by suicide are significantly more likely to consider or attempt suicide, according to a study in published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). This effect can last 2 years or mo ...
48 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0
Most elite athletes consider doping substances "are effective" in improving performance, while recognising that they constitute cheating, can endanger health and entail the obvious risk of sanction. At the same time, the ...
48 minutes ago | not rated yet | 0