Published on 03-22-2011
Researchers at the Center for Neurobiology of Stress (UCLA Med School) recently conducted a detailed study looking at the effects of meditation on the brain.
While any number of studies have shown beneficial effects from meditation (certainly enough to get started) the underlying mechanisms of change are still less understood. Researchers in this study used functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) to analyze changes from meditation. fcMRI scans highlight activity and connections in the brain that help to understand changes in patterns of thought and function. The stated goal of the study was to see if meditation can alter intrinsic connectivity networks or ICNs. ICNs are patterns of connectivity that show up with certain brain activities and appear to be involved in various degenerative conditions such as alzheimer's, autism, etc.
In this study healthy women were recruited into an 8 week meditation training course (MBSR) with a control group being put on an 8 week waiting period. After 8 weeks of training in and practice of meditation scans were taken while the subjects had their eyes closed and were instructed to listen to the sounds of the MRI machine (to help induce activity in the audio visual aspects of the brain).
Researchers found the following:
* an increase in connectivity within the parts of the brain responsible for audio and visual stimulation
* an increase in connectivity between the auditory cortex and other areas associated with attention
* stronger ability to focus the brain on the auditory aspect vs. the visual aspect
* stronger ability to focus the brain on the subject at hand and ability to lower attention to the visual cortex when not needed
These findings show that meditation creates significant changes in the brain with this study showing increases in the ability to distinguish auditory stimuli and to focus generally on sensory input.
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