Zen training speeds the mind's return after distraction, brain scans reveal

September 3, 2008

Experienced Zen meditators can clear their minds of distractions more quickly than novices, according to a new brain imaging study.

After being interrupted by a word-recognition task, experienced meditators' brains returned faster to their pre-interruption condition, researchers at Emory University School of Medicine found.

The results will be published online by the journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS ONE). dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0003083>

Giuseppe Pagnoni, PhD, Emory assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and co-workers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine changes in blood flow in the brain when people meditating were interrupted by stimuli designed to mimic the appearance of spontaneous thoughts.

The study compared 12 people from the Atlanta area with more than three years of daily practice in Zen meditation with 12 others who had never practiced meditation.

While having their brains scanned, the subjects were asked to focus on their breathing. Every once in a while, they had to distinguish a real word from a nonsense word presented at random intervals on a computer screen and, having done that, promptly "let go" of the just processed stimulus by refocusing on their breath.

The authors found that differences in brain activity between experienced meditators and novices after interruption could be seen in a set of areas often referred to as the "default mode network." Previous studies have linked the default mode network with the occurrence of spontaneous thoughts and mind-wandering during wakeful rest.

After interruption, experienced meditators were able to bring activity in most regions of the default network back to baseline faster than non-meditators. This effect was especially prominent in the angular gyrus, a region important for processing language.

"This suggests that the regular practice of meditation may enhance the capacity to limit the influence of distracting thoughts. This skill could be important in conditions such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder and major depression, characterized by excessive rumination or an abnormal production of task-unrelated thoughts," Pagnoni says.

Source: Emory University

Explore further: Having Y chromosome doesn't affect women's response to sexual images, brain study shows

Related Stories

Having Y chromosome doesn't affect women's response to sexual images, brain study shows

November 5, 2014
Women born with a rare condition that gives them a Y chromosome don't only look like women physically, they also have the same brain responses to visual sexual stimuli, a new study shows.

Recommended for you

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

Financial ties between researchers and drug industry linked to positive trial results

January 18, 2017
Financial ties between researchers and companies that make the drugs they are studying are independently associated with positive trial results, suggesting bias in the evidence base, concludes a study published by The BMJ ...

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nilbud
1 / 5 (2) Sep 03, 2008
Duh
Corban
not rated yet Sep 03, 2008
This is more about "training" than "Zen." Given that people get distracted everyday and with recurring frequency, Zen meditation may now be touted as a productivity enhancer! Do more by doing nothing!
fuchikoma
not rated yet Sep 03, 2008
I love it.
BTW, it's not doing nothing, it's being aware, receptive, and undistracted, so this makes a lot of sense. After long enough you can just shift yourself to it if you need to.

I find the angular gyrus thing fascinating though since I know Japanese, and a little bit of French, Korean, Russian, C , Java, VB.NET, BASIC, Assembler... I even read up a bit on Klingon in my youth. I like languages...
HealingMindN
not rated yet Sep 06, 2008
The findings of this default mode network function is altogether fascinating; in a way meditation provides a buffer solution to discursive thought. Obviously more people need that.

But I find the application slightly questionable. Normally, the states of higher consciousness achieved through meditation is through self discipline.

I mean, how would you induce a person with any of the aforementioned disorders to discipline themselves when these disorders are precipitated through their lack of discipline - especially if you want to get them into the position of zazen for zen meditation?

Yes, we can argue throughout time about "chemical imbalances," but the discipline of meditation travels into those nether regions of human intention and performance through discipline; this means we have to deal with human spirit.

These neuroscience researchers might be looking for some sort of psychoneuroimmunology panacea in the form of meditation.

What really has to be done is discover the individual descripancies of each of these individuals to discover where their internal strengths and discipline actually exist. Only then can we build rapport with an individual to such a degree as to suggest a function of higher consciousness, which happens to be meditation.
ancible
not rated yet Sep 06, 2008
"I mean, how would you induce a person with any of the aforementioned disorders to discipline themselves when these disorders are precipitated through their lack of discipline"

"What really has to be done is discover the individual descripancies of each of these individuals to discover where their internal strengths and discipline actually exist. Only then can we build rapport with an individual to such a degree as to suggest a function of higher consciousness, which happens to be meditation."

An excellent way to get someone who can't focus well to become at least aware of that fact would be the Emotiv headset (skin contact EEG), or anything like it. I saw a product video where one kid, searching for words, says "I had to think about what I was thinking about!" I clapped my hands and said hallelujah to that. The crazy thing was, he was saying it as though it was the first time he had had that thought.

http://emotiv.com...2_1.html

gotta press play...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.