Different parts of the brain support different functions. One function, central to many of our actions, is “attention”. Attention can be defined as the ability to sustain concentration on a particular object, action, or thought.
It can also be defined as the ability to manage competing demands in our environment.connections between neurons, die. In the brain it is supported mainly by neuronal networks in the parietal (yellow in the figure) and frontal (blue in the figure) lobes.
What can be done to maintain and boost such a fundamental ability?
Dr. Andrew Newberg (Associate Professor in the Department of Radiology and Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania), here interviewed by Alvaro Fernandez (CEO of SharpBrains) suggests that meditation may have cognitive benefits, especially related to attention:
“At its core, meditation is an active process that requires alertness and attention, which explains why we often find increased brain activity in frontal lobes during practice. Usually you need to focus on something — a mantra, a visual or verbal prompt- while you monitor breathing.
A variety of studies have already shown the stress management benefits of meditation, resulting in what is often called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. What we are researching now is what are the cognitive — attention, memory- benefits? It is clear that memory depends on attention and the ability to screen out distractions — so we want to measure the effect of meditation on the brain, both structurally and functionally.”
(Read the full interview in The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness)
Examples of such scientific studies are those by M. Posner, a pioneer researcher in the domain of attention, currently an Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon.
A few years ago, Posner and his colleagues randomly assigned participants to either an Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT) or to a relaxation training. Both trainings lasted 5 days, 20min per day. IBMT is a meditation technique developed in China in the 1990s. It stresses a balanced state of relaxation while focusing attention. Thought control is achieved with the help of a coach through posture, relaxation, body-mind harmony and balance.
The results of this study showed that after training, participants in the IBMT training group showed more improvement in a task measuring attention than the control group. The IBMT training also helped reduced cortisol levels caused by mental stress.
In a follow-up study the team found out that IBMT subjects in China had increased blood flow in the right anterior cingulate cortex (a part of the frontal lobe) after receiving training for 20 minutes a day over five days. This showed that meditation does indeed change the brain and thus its functioning.
In sum, meditation may be a potentially powerful tool to train the brain. No computer needed!