May 9, 2007 at 4:31 pm #22173
Nothing really new here, but a nice summary update on the field of science looking at meditation and the changes it causes in mind functioning. -michael
note: I am about to leave to slowly make my way to China. so next three weeks my presence here will be slim. But I’ve asked someone else to monitor the forum. If possible , I will post from China. Have 15 Mexican Taoists and 10 other spiritual adventurers from around the world.. Given the ramping up of earth chi, I expect things to cook fairly intensely.
MEDITATION SHARPENS THE MIND
By Charles Q. Choi
May 7, 2007
Three months of intense training in a form of meditation known as “insight”
in Sanskrit can sharpen a person’s brain enough to help them notice details
they might otherwise miss.
These new findings add to a growing body of research showing that
millennia-old mental disciplines can help control and improve the mind,
possibly to help treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity
“Certain mental characteristics that were previously regarded as relatively
fixed can actually be changed by mental training,” University of Wisconsin
neuroscientist Richard Davidson said. “People know physical exercise can
improve the body, but our research and that of others holds out the
prospects that mental exercise can improve minds.”
Paying attention to facts requires time and effort, and since everyone only
has a limited amount of brainpower to go around, details can get overlooked.
For instance, when two pictures are flashed on a video screen a half-second
apart, people often miss the second image.
“Your attention gets stuck on the first target, then you miss the second
one,” Davidson said. This is called “attentional blink,” an effect akin to
how you might overlook something when you blink your eyes.
Still, the fact that people can occasionally catch the second picture
suggests it’s possible to sharpen one’s attention with training, which is
just what the new meditation study found.
“Meditation is a family of methods designed to facilitate regulation of
emotion and attention,” said Davidson, who headed up the study.
In recent years, scientists have found meditation affects brain functions.
For instance, research into Tibetan monks trained in focusing their
attention on a single object or thought revealed they could concentrate on
one image significantly longer than normal when shown two different images
at each eye. Another study of people who on average meditated 40 minutes
daily found that areas of their brains linked with attention and sensory
processing became thicker.
“One of the fundamental mysteries that is now becoming better understood as
we go along but which is still a breakthrough area of research is
neuroplasticity, the idea that we can literally change our brains through
mental training,” Davidson told LiveScience. “Certain kinds of mental
characteristics such as attention or certain emotions such as happiness can
best be regarded as skills that can be trained.”
When Davidson first met His Holiness the Dalai Lama nearly a decade ago, the
exiled leader of Tibet encouraged Davidson to conduct scientific research
into meditation, “and I recognized it was a very appropriate time to begin
such research, because the methods we have available now to study the brain
have improved dramatically and the scientific community is significantly
more receptive to such ideas.”
Ten to 12 hours daily
Davidson and his colleagues investigated the impacts of Vipassana, a roughly
2,500-year-old discipline that is the oldest form of Buddhist meditation and
focuses on reducing mental distraction and improving sensory awareness.
Davidson has practiced Vipassana and other forms of Buddhist meditation for
more than 30 years.
“This is not the only form of meditation we’re interested in, but it is a
widely practiced form of instruction that can easily be replicated elsewhere
in the country,” Davidson said.
The researchers investigated 17 volunteers before and after they completed
three months of rigorous training in Vipassana. They meditated for 10 to 12
hours a day. The researchers also studied 23 novices who received a one-hour
meditation class and then meditated for 20 minutes daily for a week.
The scientists asked volunteers to look for numbers flashed on a video
screen amongst a series of distracting letters. Their brain activity was
monitored using electrodes placed on their scalps.
Davidson and his colleagues found the brains of volunteers who received the
intense mental training apparently needed less time to spot details than
before. The training also improved their ability to detect the second number
within the half-second attentional blink time window. In comparison, the
novices did not appear to experience such improvements to a significant
degree, findings detailed online May 8 in the journal PLoS Biology.
ADHD treatment potential
“This attentional blink finding shows a little wedge of what might be a much
larger dimension of experience that could be opened up by meditation
techniques,” said neuroscientist Clifford Saron at the University of
California-Davis Center for Mind and Brain. “You can imagine that life is a
series of attentional blinks, and we might be missing an awful lot of what’s
Applications of this work include treatment of attention-related conditions,
“There is an absolute explosion of prescriptions for kids who are diagnosed
with ADHD. I’m not against the judicious use of medication, but there
probably is vast over-prescription for this disorder, and strategies like
meditation could be an acceptable complement or substitute for medication
for certain kids,” Davidson said. “There still needs to be rigorous research
to establish that, but our work is provocative enough to warrant more
In the next five years, Davidson expects a dramatically increased level of
research into meditation “because it is beginning to be recognized as
something that takes advantage of the plasticity of the brain, has
relatively few if any side-effects and has potentially very beneficial
effects, the impact of which can be documented using the most rigorous
Other avenues of research Davidson and his colleagues are currently pursuing
include the impacts of meditation on pain, inflammation regulation, and
emotions and the brain circuits that handle feelings.
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