Meditation can produce enduring changes in emotional processing

December, 2012

A new study provides more evidence that meditation changes the brain, and different types of meditation produce different effects.

More evidence that even an 8-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on the brain comes from an imaging study. Moreover, the type of meditation makes a difference to how the brain changes.

The study involved 36 participants from three different 8-week courses: mindful meditation, compassion meditation, and health education (control group). The courses involved only two hours class time each week, with meditation students encouraged to meditate for an average 20 minutes a day outside class. There was a great deal of individual variability in the total amount of meditation done by the end of the course (210-1491 minutes for the mindful attention training course; 190-905 minutes for the compassion training course).

Participants’ brains were scanned three weeks before the courses began, and three weeks after the end. During each brain scan, the volunteers viewed 108 images of people in situations that were either emotionally positive, negative or neutral.

In the mindful attention group, the second brain scan showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the idea that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress. In the compassion meditation group, right amygdala activity also decreased in response to positive or neutral images, but, among those who reported practicing compassion meditation most frequently, right amygdala activity tended to increase in response to negative images. No significant changes were seen in the control group or in the left amygdala of any participant.

The findings support the idea that meditation can be effective in improving emotional control, and that compassion meditation can indeed increase compassionate feelings. Increased amygdala activation was also correlated with decreased depression scores in the compassion meditation group, which suggests that having more compassion towards others may also be beneficial for oneself.

The findings also support the idea that the changes brought about by meditation endure beyond the meditative state, and that the changes can start to occur quite quickly.

These findings are all consistent with other recent research.

One point is worth emphasizing, in the light of the difficulty in developing a training program that improves working memory rather than simply improving the task being practiced. These findings suggest that, unlike most cognitive training programs, meditation training might produce learning that is process-specific rather than stimulus- or task-specific, giving it perhaps a wider generality than most cognitive training.

Recent posts at Mynd

Analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in the cerebrospinal fluid has found that both symptomatic Alzheimer’s patients and asymptomatic...

Comparison of the EEGs of 27 healthy older adults, 27 individuals with mild Alzheimer's and 22 individuals with moderate cases of Alzheimer...

Data from two longitudinal studies of older adults (a nationally representative sample of older adults, and the Alzheimer’s Disease...

Analysis of 40 spinal marrow samples, 20 of which belonged to Alzheimer’s patients, has identified six proteins...

Data from 848 adults of all ages has found that brain volume in the default mode network declined in both healthy and pathological aging, but...

New research supports the classification system for preclinical Alzheimer’s proposed two years ago. The classification system divides...

Initial findings from an analysis of cerebrospinal fluid taken between 1995 and 2005 from 265 middle-aged healthy volunteers, of whom 75% had a...

Cognitive testing for dementia has a problem in that low scores on some tests may simply reflect a person's weakness in some cognitive areas, or...

A French study has predicted with 90% accuracy which patients with mild cognitive impairment would receive a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's...

Studies linking head trauma with increased risk and earlier age of onset for Alzheimer's disease have yielded contradictory results. Now a...

A survey of 7,072 older adults in six provinces across China, with one rural and one urban community in each province, has identified 359 older...

A survey of 7796 older adults (65+) living in three geographic areas in England has allowed us to compare dementia rates over time, with an...

A large Danish study comparing two groups of nonagenarians born 10 years apart has found that not only were people born in 1915 nearly a third (...

People with Parkinson’s disease have a six times greater risk of developing dementia than the general population. A new study points to a...

A five-year study involving 525 older adults (70+) found 46 had Alzheimer’s or aMCI...

A three-year study involving 152 adults aged 50 and older, of whom 52 had been recently diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment...