Can meditating change your brain?

In a Wired article titled Buddha on the Brain, John Geirland writes about some research that I’d read about before (in a Sharon Begley science column in the Wall Street Journal):

In June 2002, [University of Wisconsin researcher Richard] Davidson’s associate Antoine Lutz positioned 128 electrodes on the head of Mattieu Ricard. A French-born monk from the Shechen Monastery in Katmandu, Ricard had racked up more than of 10,000 hours of meditation.

Lutz asked Ricard to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion.” He immediately noticed powerful gamma activity – brain waves oscillating at roughly 40 cycles per second – indicating intensely focused thought. Gamma waves are usually weak and difficult to see. Those emanating from Ricard were easily visible, even in the raw EEG output. Moreover, oscillations from various parts of the cortex were synchronized – a phenomenon that sometimes occurs in patients under anesthesia.

The researchers had never seen anything like it. Worried that something might be wrong with their equipment or methods, they brought in more monks, as well as a control group of college students inexperienced in meditation. The monks produced gamma waves that were 30 times as strong as the students’. In addition, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive emotions.

This brings to mind something else I came across this weekend — an aside in a Weekly Standard article by Ralph Peters, quoted on Belmont Club:

What if Darwin was right conceptually, but failed to grasp that homo sapiens’ most powerful evolutionary strategy is faith?

In light of the fanaticism and violence that “faith” hath begot in some circles, it’s good to bear in mind that the malleability of the self can be harnessed for good, too.

[tags] faith, meditation [/tags]

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6 Responses to Can meditating change your brain?

  1. IB Perfect says:

    “In addition, larger areas of the meditators’ brains were active, particularly in the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for positive emotions.”

    I thought that the emotions would be balanced, neither positive nor negative, as Buddhism is the “Middle Way”. But it seems from this experiment that Buddhism is a “one-way” religion after all. :S

  2. Kirsten says:

    Uh oh, and now word is out! Or maybe these monks were some fringe breakaway sorts, secretly plotting to pollyannaize Buddhism :-o

  3. Bernita says:

    But will it help writing?

  4. IB Perfect says:

    Probably not, because frequently in the state of meditation the thoughts are…blank, therefore the monks are bad at using language and expressing their thoughts in the “ordinary” way.

  5. Kirsten says:

    No, sadly, the only thing that helps writing is writing. Sigh.

  6. Pingback: KirstenMortensen.com » Blog Archive » Neuroplasticity strikes again

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