Anxious? Activate your anterior cingulate cortex with a little meditation

June 4, 2013, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

Scientists, like Buddhist monks and Zen masters, have known for years that meditation can reduce anxiety, but not how. Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, however, have succeeded in identifying the brain functions involved.

"Although we've known that meditation can reduce anxiety, we hadn't identified the specific brain mechanisms involved in relieving anxiety in healthy individuals," said Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow in neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of the study. "In this study, we were able to see which areas of the brain were activated and which were deactivated during meditation-related anxiety relief."

The study is published in the current edition of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

For the study, 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety were recruited for the study. These individuals had no previous meditation experience or . All subjects participated in four 20-minute classes to learn a technique known as mindfulness meditation. In this form of meditation, people are taught to focus on breath and body sensations and to non-judgmentally evaluate distracting thoughts and emotions.

Both before and after , the study participants' brain activity was examined using a special type of imaging – arterial spin labeling – that is very effective at imaging , such as meditation. In addition, anxiety reports were measured before and after brain scanning.

The majority of study participants reported decreases in anxiety. Researchers found that meditation reduced anxiety ratings by as much as 39 percent.

"This showed that just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation can help reduce normal everyday anxiety," Zeidan said.

The study revealed that meditation-related anxiety relief is associated with activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial , areas of the brain involved with executive-level function. During meditation, there was more activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls worrying. In addition, when activity increased in the – the area that governs thinking and emotion – anxiety decreased.

"Mindfulness is premised on sustaining attention in the present moment and controlling the way we react to daily thoughts and feelings," Zeidan said. "Interestingly, the present findings reveal that the brain regions associated with meditation-related anxiety relief are remarkably consistent with the principles of being mindful."

Research at other institutions has shown that meditation can significantly reduce anxiety in patients with generalized anxiety and depression disorders. The results of this neuroimaging experiment complement that body of knowledge by showing the brain mechanisms associated with meditation-related anxiety relief in healthy people, he said.

Explore further: Meditation expertise changes experience of pain

Related Stories

Meditation expertise changes experience of pain

November 16, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Meditation can change the way a person experiences pain, according to a new study by UW–Madison neuroscientists.

Real-time brain feedback can help people overcome anxiety

May 9, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—People provided with a real-time readout of activity in specific regions of their brains can learn to control that activity and lessen their anxiety, according to new findings published online in the journal ...

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.

Long-term meditation leads to different brain organization

May 24, 2012
(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.

Can meditation make you a more compassionate person?

April 1, 2013
Scientists have mostly focused on the benefits of meditation for the brain and the body, but a recent study by Northeastern University's David DeSteno, published in Psychological Science, takes a look at what impacts meditation ...

Recommended for you

MDMA makes people cooperative, but not gullible

November 19, 2018
New research from King's College London has found that MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy, causes people to cooperate better—but only with trustworthy people. In the first study to look in detail at how MDMA impacts cooperative ...

Exploring the genetic contribution to suicide risk

November 19, 2018
Researchers at University of Utah Health identified four gene changes that occur more frequently in people who died by suicide that may point to increased risk in vulnerable individuals.

Study measures effectiveness of online communication tools in combatting depression among socially isolated seniors

November 19, 2018
Imagine your family has moved across the state or across country. You're retired, and your spouse has passed away. Lacking the social connections previous generations once found in church or fraternal organizations, it doesn't ...

Response to daily stressors could affect brain health in older adults

November 19, 2018
Taking typical daily annoyances such as a long wait at the doctor's office or a traffic jam on the freeway in stride may help preserve brain health in older adults, while emotional reactions could contribute to declines in ...

In-person, but not online, social contact may protect against psychiatric disorders

November 19, 2018
In-person social contact seems to offer some protection against depression and PTSD symptoms, but the same is not true of contact on Facebook, suggests a study by Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System and Oregon Health ...

'Boomeranging' back to a parents' home negatively affects young adults' mental health

November 19, 2018
The number of young adults living in their own household has dropped dramatically in the last decades in the United States for a number of economic and social reasons. In a study that will soon be published in the peer-reviewed ...

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.