Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Transcendental Meditation and Working Memory Training To Enhance Executive Functions

New study shows Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion improves brain func­tion­ing in ADHD stu­dents (press release):

- “Pri­or research shows ADHD chil­dren have slow­er brain devel­op­ment and a reduced abil­i­ty to cope with stress,” said Dr. Stixrud. “Vir­tu­al­ly every­one finds it dif­fi­cult to pay atten­tion, orga­nize them­selves and get things done when they’re under stress,” he explained. “Stress inter­feres with the abil­i­ty to learn—it shuts down the brain. Func­tions such as atten­tion, mem­o­ry, orga­ni­za­tion, and inte­gra­tion are com­pro­mised.”

- Dr. Stixrud added, “Because stress sig­nif­i­cant­ly com­pro­mis­es atten­tion and all of the key exec­u­tive func­tions such as inhi­bi­tion, work­ing mem­o­ry, orga­ni­za­tion, and men­tal flex­i­bil­i­ty, it made sense that a tech­nique (such as Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion) that can reduce a child’s lev­el of stress should also improve his or her cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing.”

The study: ADHD, Brain Func­tion­ing, and Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion Prac­tice. Relat­ed arti­cles:

Work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing decreas­es alco­hol use in prob­lem drinkers (Psy­chol­o­gy Today)

- “The abil­i­ty to con­trol unwant­ed behav­iors is at the heart of what psy­chol­o­gists term exec­u­tive con­trol. Exec­u­tive con­trol is an umbrel­la term that refers to a col­lec­tion of cog­ni­tive func­tions — such as atten­tion, plan­ning, mem­o­ry, ini­ti­at­ing actions and inhibit­ing them. When our impuls­es get the best of us, a fail­ure in exec­u­tive con­trol is often to blame.”

- “For­tu­nate­ly, these fail­ures are not inevitable. In fact, a paper pub­lished last week in the jour­nalPsy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence sug­gests that fail­ures of exec­u­tive con­trol can be dimin­ished by train­ing our work­ing mem­o­ry.”

The study: Get­ting a Grip on Drink­ing Behav­ior : Train­ing Work­ing Mem­o­ry to Reduce Alco­hol Abuse. Relat­ed arti­cles:

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6 Responses

  1. Jay Kay says:

    What’s unfor­tu­nate is that the TM peo­ple want you to believe that their brand of med­i­ta­tion is dif­fer­ent from oth­er (and less expen­sive) brands. Just because they received the grant doesn’t mean their tech­nique is bet­ter than oth­ers. (and I say this as a 9-year TM prac­ti­tion­er who received a gov­ern­ment grant to direct a research study of TM in the schools).

    Look: it’s the phys­i­ol­o­gy, stu­pid. Mind­ful­ness, heart-felt gratitude…anything that reduces the stress response and enhances phys­i­o­log­i­cal bal­ance for a sus­tained peri­od of time will do the same thing. It does not have to be a reli­gious (yes, TM is Hin­du-based, with the indi­vid­ual focus­ing on a “secret” sound for 20 min­utes) technique…or one that charges mon­ey for its instruc­tion.

    You will not find a peer-reviewed study show­ing that TM is bet­ter than oth­er forms of med­i­ta­tion or emotional/physiological bal­anc­ing.

  2. Jay Kay says:

    …and fur­ther­more, here’s what piss­es me off. The prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor, Sari­na J. Gross­wald, EdD, a George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty-trained cog­ni­tive learn­ing spe­cial­ist, ran for Con­gress on the Nat­ur­al Law Par­ty; whose can­di­dates, of course, are all TM devo­tees. Hard­ly an objec­tive and unbi­ased study. In addi­tion, the press release from TM head­quar­ters (Mahar­ishi Uni­ver­si­ty) states that “The Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion tech­nique is an effort­less, easy-to-learn prac­tice, unique among cat­e­gories of med­i­ta­tion.”

    Horse­shit! It’s eas­i­er to learn than pay­ing atten­tion to your breath?

    So beware of any TM study. What you’re like­ly to get is TM’ers doing their best to prove that their brand works. And, with that kind of objec­tiv­i­ty, why wouldn’t it?

  3. Vee Bee says:


    Sounds like you have an axe to grind with the move­ment. I was an EEG tech­ni­cian for research on dif­fer­ent forms of med­i­ta­tion, includ­ing TM. The con­clu­sion was that Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion cre­ates sub­stan­tial­ly more ben­e­fit than oth­er med­i­ta­tion and relax­ation tech­niques. This was the con­clu­sion of a meta-analy­sis of 597 stud­ies of med­i­ta­tion prac­tices that was pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Health Pro­mo­tion. This study found that the Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion tech­nique was sig­nif­i­cant­ly supe­ri­or to oth­er forms of med­i­ta­tion and relax­ation in a wide range of cri­te­ria relat­ed to men­tal and phys­i­cal health. A sec­ond meta-analy­sis, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Social Behav­ior Per­son­al­i­ty, found the effect of the TM tech­nique on self-actu­al­iza­tion (growth towards one’s total poten­tial) to be marked­ly greater than that of oth­er forms of med­i­ta­tion and relax­ation. The TM tech­nique is a unique prac­tice both in its pro­ce­dure and in the depth and scope of its ben­e­fits for the mind and body. Research stud­ies have shown a pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion between the Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion tech­nique and a wide vari­ety of ben­e­fits. In the field of phys­i­cal health alone, research has shown improve­ment in lung func­tion for patients with asth­ma, reduc­tion of high blood pres­sure, younger bio­log­i­cal age, decreased insom­nia, reduc­tion of high cho­les­terol, reduced ill­ness and med­ical expen­di­tures, decreased out­pa­tient vis­its, decreased cig­a­rette smok­ing, decreased alco­hol use and decreased anx­i­ety, to name a few.

    RESEARCH STUDIES– Wil­son, AF., Hons­berg­er, R., Chiu, JT., Novey, HS. “Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion and asth­ma.” Res­pi­ra­tion, 1975, 74–80, Hyper­ten­sion 26: 820–827, 1995, Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science 16: 53–58, 1982, Jour­nal of Coun­sel­ing and Devel­op­ment 64: 212–215, 1985, Jour­nal of Human Stress 5: 24–27, 1979, The Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Man­aged Care 3: 135–144, 1997, The Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Man­aged Care 3: 135–144, 1997, Alco­holism Treat­ment Quar­ter­ly 11: 13–87, 1994, Alco­holism Treat­ment Quar­ter­ly 11: 13–87, 1994, Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal Psy­chol­o­gy 45: 957–974, 1989

  4. Seorsa says:

    I have used med­i­ta­tion at var­i­ous times in my life, have read about TM. I am skep­ti­cal of many of their claims, and agree with Jay that one can learn medi­a­tion for free. There are some stud­ies that show west­ern­ers have dif­fi­cul­ty learn­ing and sus­tain­ing a med­i­ta­tion prac­tice. I do believe that what com­er­cial TM does is cre­ate a lev­el of com­mit­ment and pro­vides a lev­el of per­son­al instruc­tion that pos­si­bly could pro­duce results in peo­ple that have dif­fi­cul­ty learn­ing medi­ata­tion on their own. Much like some­one who final­ly gets diet suc­cess with (take your pick) Jen­ny craig, herbal­ife, or any of those oth­er sys­tems that cost and require a com­mit­ment to prod­ucts. Does it mean TM is inher­ent­ly uneth­i­cal? Maybe not, but it does mean that they have sig­nif­i­cant moti­vat­ing fac­tors to sus­tain their sys­tem and it’s spe­cial sta­tus they cre­at­ed.

    I real­ly like Vee’s com­ment on a study ass­esing “self actu­al­iza­tion” as a result of TM. Self actu­al­iza­tion is not some­thing real in the sense that we can say, mea­sure elec­tric­i­ty or speed. It is a con­cept that may be mea­sured by a psy­cho­log­i­cal ass­es­ment, and this is a prob­lem with that par­tic­u­lar type of sci­ence. Almost any­one who stud­ies self actu­al­iza­tion will be biased in that they will have a par­tic­u­lar def­i­n­i­tion of what self actu­al­iza­tion is, and a par­tic­u­lar type of mea­sure­ment. I am not say­ing it is horse­shit, but like hap­pi­eness and oth­er things we mea­sure, we need to take it with a big grain of salt (maybe a boul­der) when we dis­cuss it in the con­text of a sci­en­tif­ic exper­i­ment, draw causative con­clu­sions and there are obvi­ous flaws with doing any type of a meta-ana­lyt­i­cal study in this area. Notice the oth­er types of stud­ies men­tioned include mea­sure changes in spe­cif­ic behav­iors, train­ing work­ing mem­o­ry to reduce drink­ing. We can cer­tain­ly mea­sure drink­ing behav­iors.…

  5. Alan Schaaf says:

    For a do-it-your­self guide to med­i­ta­tion, try Matthieu Ricard’s book, “Why Med­i­tate”. There is a very acces­si­ble audio CD includ­ed. The tech­niques are orig­i­nal­ly Bud­dhist, but the pre­sen­ta­tion and the prac­tices are non-reli­gious.

  6. Michael says:

    @Vee Bee

    I’m cur­rent­ly doing some lit­er­a­ture review on med­i­ta­tion and have yet to find any strong arti­cles on TM. Our team is try­ing to find some work on Med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ben­e­fit and EEG band lev­els. It sounds like your work would be per­fect­ly in line with our goals. I would love to share notes if you have time.


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