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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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