Long-term meditation leads to different brain organization

May 24, 2012 By Marie Lambert-Chan
The research team was curious to know if the effects of meditation persisted after the exercise was completed. Credit: IStock

(Medical Xpress) -- People who practice mindfulness meditation learn to accept their feelings, emotions, and states of mind without judging or resisting them. They simply live in the moment.

Several studies have shown that this type of may have on long-term and, consequently, on disorders such as and . A new study reveals that this mind training has an influence on the default network of experienced meditators when they are at rest. Differences in the brain indicate that meditation contributes to better and more objective self-thought.

“We studied the brains of 13 meditators with over 1,000 hours of practice and 11 beginners by analyzing functional connectivity,” says Veronica Taylor, the lead author of the study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Advance Access in March 2012.

Functional connectivity refers to the synchronization between two or more brain regions that changes over time during a specific task or at rest. This method of analysis can be applied to data from functional magnetic resonance imaging. “Participants remained in a CT scanner for a few minutes and were asked to do nothing," explained Taylor, who is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology under the supervision of Professor Pierre Rainville.

These analyses enabled the researchers to identify subjects' default brain network, i.e., the set of regions activated at rest when the person is not performing a particular activity.

“We wanted to assess whether the effects of mindfulness meditation persisted beyond the practice,” said the doctoral student. “We hypothesized that the default brain network of meditators is structured differently. The default network is associated with daydreaming and self-thought when one is doing ‘nothing.' In fact, we thought we would find a different organization because these individuals are used to being in the moment, and their thoughts do not go in all directions when at rest."

Indeed, the results show weaker synchronization between the ventral and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex. “The dorsal part is involved in cognitive processes associated with the self, while the ventral part is associated with self-evaluation,” says Taylor. Because these areas are less interrelated, it shows that these people think about themselves more objectively.” She adds that the more participants had experience with meditation the weaker the connection, which, according to her, “gives weight to the results.”

A curious and interesting fact: the subjects had greater synchronization between areas that all converge in the right parietal lobe. This area is known for having a role in attention, suggesting perhaps a long-term beneficial effect of meditation, but which remains to be proven by research specifically studying attentional processes," says the student.

Although the subjects were tested at rest, Taylor has first-hand knowledge of the tangible benefits of mindfulness meditation in everyday life. “I have practiced meditation for several years and have noticed that my attention is longer and steadier when I concentrate.”

“There is still much to discover about the power of meditation,” she says. In the meantime, she suggests everyone take it up. “It doesn't cost anything and you can meditate anywhere and anytime... and the benefits are real. ”

Explore further: Tuning out: How brains benefit from meditation

Related Stories

Tuning out: How brains benefit from meditation

November 21, 2011
Experienced meditators seem to be able switch off areas of the brain associated with daydreaming as well as psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, according to a new brain imaging study by Yale researchers.

UA psychology professor seeks relief for chronic headache sufferers

May 10, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Dr. Beverly Thorn, chair of The University of Alabama's psychology department, is seeking volunteers for a key study into how "mindfulness meditation" can help manage chronic pain from headaches.

The benefits of meditation: Neuroscientists explain why the practice helps tune out distractions and relieve pain

May 5, 2011
Studies have shown that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms underlying the relief were unclear. Now, MIT and Harvard researchers have found a possible ...

Recommended for you

Gene associated with schizophrenia risk regulates neurodevelopment

September 25, 2017
A gene associated with the risk of schizophrenia regulates critical components of early brain development, according to a new study led by researchers from Penn State University. The gene is involved in the translation of ...

For a better 'I,' there needs to be a supportive 'we'

September 25, 2017
If you're one of those lucky individuals with high motivation and who actively pursues personal growth goals, thank your family and friends who support you.

Babies can learn that hard work pays off

September 21, 2017
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. A new study from MIT reveals that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. The researchers found that babies who watched an adult struggle at two different ...

Study links brain inflammation to suicidal thinking in depression

September 21, 2017
Patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) have increased brain levels of a marker of microglial activation, a sign of inflammation, according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry by researchers at the University of ...

Oxytocin turns up the volume of your social environment

September 20, 2017
Before you shop for the "cuddle" hormone oxytocin to relieve stress and enhance your social life, read this: a new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that sometimes, blocking the action of oxytocin in ...

Researchers develop new tool to assess individual's level of wisdom

September 20, 2017
Researchers at University of San Diego School of Medicine have developed a new tool called the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) to assess an individual's level of wisdom, based upon a conceptualization of wisdom as a trait ...

0 comments

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.