Mar 27, 2008

Study shows compassion meditation changes the brain

Via SharpBrains 

Results of a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) published March 25 in the Public Library of Science One suggest that positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The scans revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.

Abstract. Recent brain imaging studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have implicated insula and anterior cingulate cortices in the empathic response to another's pain. However, virtually nothing is known about the impact of the voluntary generation of compassion on this network. To investigate these questions we assessed brain activity using fMRI while novice and expert meditation practitioners generated a loving-kindness-compassion meditation state. To probe affective reactivity, we presented emotional and neutral sounds during the meditation and comparison periods. Our main hypothesis was that the concern for others cultivated during this form of meditation enhances affective processing, in particular in response to sounds of distress, and that this response to emotional sounds is modulated by the degree of meditation training. The presentation of the emotional sounds was associated with increased pupil diameter and activation of limbic regions (insula and cingulate cortices) during meditation (versus rest). During meditation, activation in insula was greater during presentation of negative sounds than positive or neutral sounds in expert than it was in novice meditators. The strength of activation in insula was also associated with self-reported intensity of the meditation for both groups. These results support the role of the limbic circuitry in emotion sharing. The comparison between meditation vs. rest states between experts and novices also showed increased activation in amygdala, right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in response to all sounds, suggesting, greater detection of the emotional sounds, and enhanced mentation in response to emotional human vocalizations for experts than novices during meditation. Together these data indicate that the mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion alters the activation of circuitries previously linked to empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli.


Dec 18, 2006

The Neurobiological Dimension of Meditation

The Neurobiological Dimension of Meditation - Results from Neuroimaging Studies.

Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol. 2006 Dec;56(12):488-492

Authors: Neumann NU, Frasch K

Meditation in general can be understood as a state of complete and unintentional silent and motionless concentration on an activity, an item or an idea. Subjectively, meditative experience is said to be fundamentally different from "normal" mental states and is characterized by terms like timelessness, boundlessness and lack of self-experience. In recent years, several fMRI- and PET-studies about meditation which are presented in this paper have been published. Due to different methods, especially different meditation types, the results are hardly comparable. Nevertheless, the data suggest the hypothesis of a "special" neural activity during meditative states being different from that during calm alertness. Main findings were increased activation in frontal, prefrontal and cingulate areas which may represent the mental state of altered self-experience. In the present studies, a considerable lack of scientific standards has to be stated making it of just casuistic value. Today's improved neurobiological examination methods - especially neuroimaging techniques - may contribute to enlighten the phenomenon of qualitatively different states of consciousness.

Dec 13, 2006

Effects of transcendental meditation practice on interhemispheric frontal asymmetry and frontal coherence

Cross-sectional and longitudinal study of effects of transcendental meditation practice on interhemispheric frontal asymmetry and frontal coherence.

Int J Neurosci. 2006 Dec;116(12):1519-38

Authors: Travis F, Arenander A

Two studies investigated frontal alpha lateral asymmetry and frontal interhemispheric coherence during eyes-closed rest, Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice, and computerized reaction-time tasks. In the first study, frontal coherence and lateralized asymmetry were higher in 13 TM subjects than in 12 controls. In the second study (N = 14), a one-year longitudinal study, lateral asymmetry did not change in any condition. In contrast, frontal coherence increased linearly during computer tasks and eyes-closed rest, and as a step-function during TM practice-rising to a high level after 2-months TM practice. Coherence was more sensitive than lateral asymmetry to effects of TM practice on brain functioning.