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Study finds clear–yet surprisingly different–benefits in 3 types of meditation-based mental training

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As cit­i­zens of the 21st cen­tu­ry, we face many prob­lems that come with an indus­tri­al­ized and glob­al­ized world. I’m not a lawyer or a politi­cian, but a psy­chol­o­gist and neu­ro­sci­en­tist. So research on how to train help­ful men­tal and social capac­i­ties is my way to con­tribute to a more healthy, com­mu­nal, and coop­er­a­tive civ­i­liza­tion.

For the past five years, that research has tak­en the form of the ReSource Project, one of the longest and most com­pre­hen­sive stud­ies on the effects of med­i­ta­tion-based men­tal train­ing to date. Lots of research treats the con­cept of med­i­ta­tion as a sin­gle prac­tice, when in fact med­i­ta­tion encom­pass­es a diver­si­ty of men­tal prac­tices that train dif­fer­ent skills and dif­fer­ent parts of the brain. Our goal was to study the spe­cif­ic effects of Read the rest of this entry »

Can mental training in compassion lead to altruistic behavior and better health?

The first time I ever tried a lov­ing-kind­ness med­i­ta­tion, I was over­come by a feel­ing of com­plete… futil­i­ty. Men­tal­ly extend­ing com­pas­sion to oth­ers and wish­ing them free from suf­fer­ing seemed nice enough, but I had a hard time believ­ing that my idle thoughts could increase kind­ness in the real world.

Turns out I was wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

National Science Foundation report: Can interactive media boost attention and well-being?

interactivemediaBehav­ioral train­ing inter­ven­tions have received much inter­est as poten­tial­ly effi­cient and cost-effec­tive ways to main­tain brain fit­ness or enhance skilled per­for­mance with impact rang­ing from health and fit­ness to edu­ca­tion and job train­ing. In par­tic­u­lar, neu­ro­science research has doc­u­ment­ed the impor­tance of explic­it­ly train­ing (i) atten­tion­al con­trol, in order to enhance per­cep­tu­al and cog­ni­tive fit­ness as well as (ii) kind­ness and com­pas­sion, to Read the rest of this entry »

10–12 hours of meditation training can improve daily-life emotional regulation

Med­i­ta­tion Appears to Pro­duce Endur­ing Changes in Emo­tion­al Pro­cess­ing in the Brain (Sci­ence Dai­ly):

A new study has found that par­tic­i­pat­ing in an 8-week med­i­ta­tion train­ing pro­gram can have mea­sur­able effects on how the brain func­tions even when some­one is not active­ly meditating…While neu­roimag­ing stud­ies have found that med­i­ta­tion train­ing appeared to decrease acti­va­tion of the amyg­dala — a struc­ture at the base of the brain that is known to have a role in pro­cess­ing mem­o­ry and emo­tion — those changes were Read the rest of this entry »

Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg

Dr_Andrew_NewbergDr. Andrew New­berg is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­o­gy and Psy­chi­a­try and Adjunct Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Reli­gious Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. He has pub­lished a vari­ety of neu­roimag­ing stud­ies relat­ed to aging and demen­tia. He has also researched the neu­ro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal cor­re­lates of med­i­ta­tion, prayer, and how brain func­tion is asso­ci­at­ed with mys­ti­cal and reli­gious expe­ri­ences. Alvaro Fer­nan­dez inter­views him here as part of our research for the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Opti­mize Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age.

Dr. New­berg, thank you for being with us today. Can you please explain the source of your inter­ests at the inter­sec­tion of brain research and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty?

Since I was a kid, I had a keen inter­est in spir­i­tu­al prac­tice. I always won­dered how spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and reli­gion affect us, and over time I came to appre­ci­ate how sci­ence can help us explore and under­stand the world around us, includ­ing why we humans care about spir­i­tu­al prac­tices. This, of course, led me to be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in brain research.

Dur­ing med­ical school I was par­tic­u­lar­ly attract­ed by the prob­lem of con­scious­ness. I was for­tu­nate to meet researcher Dr. Eugene D’Aquili in the ear­ly 1990s, who had been doing much research on reli­gious prac­tices effect on brain since the 1970s. Through him I came to see that brain imag­ing can pro­vide a fas­ci­nat­ing win­dow into the brain.

Can we define reli­gion and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty -which sound to me as very dif­fer­ent brain process­es-, and why learn­ing about them may be help­ful from a pure­ly sec­u­lar, sci­en­tif­ic point of view?

Good point, def­i­n­i­tions mat­ter, since dif­fer­ent peo­ple may be search­ing for God in dif­fer­ent ways. I view being reli­gious as par­tic­i­pat­ing in orga­nized rit­u­als and shared beliefs, such as going to church. Being spir­i­tu­al, on the oth­er hand, is more of an indi­vid­ual prac­tice, whether we call it med­i­ta­tion, or relax­ation, or prayer, aimed at expand­ing the self, devel­op­ing a sense of one­ness with the uni­verse.

What is hap­pen­ing is that spe­cif­ic prac­tices that have tra­di­tion­al­ly been asso­ci­at­ed with reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al con­texts may also be very use­ful from a main­stream, sec­u­lar, health point of view, beyond those con­texts. Sci­en­tists are research­ing, for exam­ple, what Read the rest of this entry »

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