Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Meditation appears to produce enduring changes in emotional processing in the brain

Date:
November 12, 2012
Source:
Massachusetts General Hospital
Summary:
A new study has found that participating in an eight-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating. The researchers also found differences in those effects based on the specific type of meditation practiced.

Study participants who completed an 8-week meditation training course had reduced activity in the right amygdala (highlighted structure) in response to emotional images, even when not meditating.
Credit: Gaλlle Desbordes, PhD, Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Mass. General Hospital

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. In their report in the November issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston University (BU), and several other research centers also found differences in those effects based on the specific type of meditation practiced.

Related Articles


"The two different types of meditation training our study participants completed yielded some differences in the response of the amygdala -- a part of the brain known for decades to be important for emotion -- to images with emotional content," says Gaλlle Desbordes, PhD, a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and at the BU Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology, corresponding author of the report. "This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state."

Several previous studies have supported the hypothesis that meditation training improves practitioners' emotional regulation. 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 only observed while study participants were meditating. The current study was designed to test the hypothesis that meditation training could also produce a generalized reduction in amygdala response to emotional stimuli, measurable by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Participants had enrolled in a larger investigation into the effects of two forms of meditation, based at Emory University in Atlanta. Healthy adults with no experience meditating participated in 8-week courses in either mindful attention meditation -- the most commonly studied form that focuses on developing attention and awareness of breathing, thoughts and emotions -- and compassion meditation, a less-studied form that includes methods designed to develop loving kindness and compassion for oneself and for others. A control group participated in an 8-week health education course.

Within three weeks before beginning and three weeks after completing the training, 12 participants from each group traveled to Boston for fMRI brain imaging at the Martinos Center's state-of-the-art imaging facilities. Brain scans were performed as the volunteers viewed a series of 216 different images -- 108 per session -- of people in situations with either positive, negative or neutral emotional content. Meditation was not mentioned in pre-imaging instructions to participants, and investigators confirmed afterwards that the volunteers had not meditated while in the scanner. Participants also completed assessments of symptoms of depression and anxiety before and after the training programs.

In the mindful attention group, the after-training brain scans showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress. In the compassion meditation group, right amygdala activity also decreased in response to positive or neutral images. But among those who reported practicing compassion meditation most frequently outside of the training sessions, right amygdala activity tended to increase in response to negative images -- all of which depicted some form of human suffering. No significant changes were seen in the control group or in the left amygdala of any study participants.

"We think these two forms of meditation cultivate different aspects of mind," Desbordes explains. "Since compassion meditation is designed to enhance compassionate feelings, it makes sense that it could increase amygdala response to seeing people suffer. Increased amygdala activation was also correlated with decreased depression scores in the compassion meditation group, which suggests that having more compassion towards others may also be beneficial for oneself. Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing."

Eric Schwartz, PhD, of the BU Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology, is senior author of the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience report. Additional co-authors are Lobsang T. Negi, PhD, and Thaddeus Pace, PhD, Emory University; Alan Wallace, PhD, Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies; and Charles Raison, MD, University of Arizona College of Medicine. The study was supported by grants from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, including an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant to Boston University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts General Hospital. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Gaλlle Desbordes, Lobsang T. Negi, Thaddeus W. W. Pace, B. Alan Wallace, Charles L. Raison, Eric L. Schwartz. Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2012; 6 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00292

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts General Hospital. "Meditation appears to produce enduring changes in emotional processing in the brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112150339.htm>.
Massachusetts General Hospital. (2012, November 12). Meditation appears to produce enduring changes in emotional processing in the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112150339.htm
Massachusetts General Hospital. "Meditation appears to produce enduring changes in emotional processing in the brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121112150339.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) — A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) — Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins