Meditation causes the brain to work differently. Not just during meditation itself, but for weeks afterward. New research shows sustained effects in a brain region involved in emotion and stress.
Participants in the study followed an eight-week meditation training program. On average, they each meditated for a total of about 10 hours. One group of subjects mastered attention meditation; the other engaged in compassion meditation, which focuses on developing kindness and compassion. To see the long-term effect of the different meditation forms, brain scans were taken before the meditation training and during a three-week follow-up.
The researchers paid particular attention to the amygdala, a brain structure involved in emotion and stress. Typically, a place where you might expect an effect of meditation. To activate the amygdala, the test subjects were shown pictures of people in positive, negative or neutral situations during scanning.
In a control group, with people who had not meditated between measurement times, no difference occurred. However, in the subjects who had practiced attention meditation, something had changed. Their amygdala responded less strongly to all the pictures. Apparently the long-term effect of attention meditation is the fact that it improves emotional stability and the ability to cope with stress.
For the first time
Moreover, the amygdala showed reduced activity in people in the compassion meditation group. Except for the pictures of people in negative situations: these actually made the amygdala work harder than before the meditation. Even the compassion meditation training apparently still had an effect on the brain after three weeks. According to the researchers, this is the first time that effects of meditation on the brain have been demonstrated after meditating itself.
The study was published online the first of November in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Author: Daan Schetselaar
Translated by: Joyce Burger