Meditation can change brain function: U of T Psychology and Psychiatry

A study on the effects of meditation on brain function at the University of Toronto by Cognitive Psychologist Dr. Adam Anderson, PhD candidate Norman Farm, and Psychiatrist and internationally reknowned leader in research on mindfulness meditation, Dr. Zindel Segal, has found that training in meditation can produce changes in brain function in nonclinical populations.

In this study, the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map brain activity changes in people trianed in mindfulness meditation,

The researchers scanned the brains of study participants as they completed two tasks. Participants were first asked to judge whether word prompts described their personalities, a task designed to trigger rumination or what the authors call “narrative” thought patterns. In another task, participants were instructed tomonitor their reactions to the words without further judgment in an attempt to coax them to be in the moment or adopt an “experiential” focus.

People with no meditation training showed very little change in brain activity from task to task. They mostly engaged the areas along the middle of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for personality expression and appropriate social behaviour. However, participants who had practised meditation regularly for eight weeks showed a more dramatic change in brain activity when asked to move from the narrative to the experiential focus — they shifted away from the midline brain regions to areas that regulate more primitive functions such as touch, pain and temperature sensation.

“This ability to alter brain activity may explain why so many studies show mood improvements with meditation. It turns out taking a break from the middle regions of the brain, which we tend to overuse,might be just what’s needed to help you feel better,” Anderson said. “The prefrontal cortex allows us to mentally time travel. It’s an amazing capacity,” he explained, “but it can have some side effects.” The ability to learn from the past and predict the future is useful but it can also cause us to worry about what has already happened or what is yet to come. Training your brain to switch off its default desire to ruminate could give “people the cognitive tools for dealing with their emotions,” said Anderson. This is important because drugs for treating psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety have side effects, making their long-term use a challenge.

The results of this study are presented in this month’s issue of the Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Yet another piece of empirical evidence demonstrating the value of mindfulness meditation.

7 Responses to “Meditation can change brain function: U of T Psychology and Psychiatry”
  1. It’s exciting to live in a time when science and philosophy are meeting in the middle, so to speak. I love that we are seeing experiments that validate teachings from 4,000 years ago – this will go a long way toward helping the “pragmatic” thinkers open themselves to the benefits of mindfulness and other training.

  2. Thanks for your post,I’ve learn some information and get new idea to work with.

  3. i am very intrested in your subject there should be some thing discus regaring brain funcation at higher level in meditation . we can understand the role of brain. There is very few thing is written regarding above subject with sbjectivity inEAST OR WEST. Those people have knowledge but they are not publishing or wwritting . Other thing is that they have cross the border or to comunicate with people it is sad part of brain psychology and meditatation any blog or person can write me on my email;

  4. Kathryn Lucarello says:

    What are you thoughts, and findings, if any on the affect of meditation on individuals at various stages of life who are autistic? Have you studied ASD, or high functioning autistic individuals after an 8 – 10 week research study relative to this topic? and PubMed do have published studies on this which shows success in decreasing negative behavior patterns typical of this population and at the same time improve cognitive function. Most of the participants continued to use the meditation 2x’s/da at 10 min or so each on their own initiative. Comments?

  5. Cactus says:

    That’s a sensible answer to a chleilngang question

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] dogmatic in a general, but to religious ideas in particular. A quick look at the previous post on meditation and brain function provides a contemporary counterexample to this possibility. Meditation originated in the East, […]

  2. […] a special no-exceptions door-slamming bias against religion. A quick look at the previous post on meditation and brain function provides a contemporary counterexample to this possibility. Meditation originated in the East, […]

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