research

New Research on Meditation—It’s All About the Brain | NCCAM

We are planning a series of blog posts to highlight some exciting work from our research portfolio. Research we support has led to more than 3,000 peer-reviewed papers; hundreds are published each year. We plan to highlight a few here, choosing examples that illustrate both the promise and the challenges of research on complementary health practices.

Currently one intriguing area is the effect of meditation on the brain. Meditation can be viewed as a kind of ‘mental exercise.’ NCCAM has supported a fair amount of research on its potential health benefits. We still do not have all the answers, but a number of studies support the notion that this ‘mental exercise’ helps regulate attention and emotion and improves the sense of well being. New insights are coming from incorporation of brain-imaging studies into meditation research. In particular, studies suggest that meditation is accompanied by changes in activation of select regions in the brain, particularly the amygdala, a region associated with processing of emotion.

A new NCCAM study, by Desbordes and colleagues, goes further and concludes that the changes in brain function in the amygdala seen during meditation are persistent, enduring even outside meditation sessions. Results were published this month in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. You can read more about how the study was conducted in our research spotlight. This is a small, single study that fits into the larger body of evidence. I would agree with the authors who noted the need for further research, but I do think the findings provide additional insight into the effects of meditation on the brain—insights that may help to understand the determinants of mental states and the role of traditional practices like meditation in health.

via New Research on Meditation—It’s All About the Brain | NCCAM.

 

Compassionate Meditation Can Boost Empathy | Psych Central News

Compassionate Meditation Can Boost EmpathyCompassionate Meditation Can Boost Empathy

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor

Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 5, 2012

New research suggest a compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve an individual’s ability to read the emotions of others.Investigators measured the improvement in empathic accuracy by behavioral testing of study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI scans of brain activity.

“It’s an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy,” said lead author Jennifer Mascaro.

“Previous research has shown that both children and adults who are better at reading the emotional expressions of others have better relationships.”The meditation protocol, known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT, was developed at Emory University by study co-author Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Although the meditation program was derived from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices, the CBCT program is secular in content and presentation.

The compassionate based meditation practice is different from “mindfulness meditation” in which practitioners seek to improve their ability to concentrate and to be non-judgmentally aware of their thoughts and feelings.While CBCT includes these mindfulness elements, the practice focuses more specifically on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.“The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways,” Negi said.

“CBCT aims to condition one’s mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level.”In the study, 13 healthy adults without prior meditation experience were randomly assigned to either a CBCT group or a control group in which subjects did not meditate. The control group completed health discussion classes that covered mind-body subjects like the effects of exercise and stress on well-being.

To test empathic accuracy before and following CBCT, all participants received fMRI brain scans while completing a modified version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test RMET.The RMET consists of black-and-white photographs that show just the eye region of people making various expressions. Those being tested must judge what the person in the photograph is thinking or feeling.

Eight out of the 13 participants in the CBCT meditation group improved their RMET scores by an average of 4.6 percent, while the control participants showed no increase, and in the majority of cases, a decrease in correct answers for the RMET.fMRI evaluation showed that the CBCT group had significant increases in neural activity in areas of the brain important for empathy, including the inferior frontal gyrus and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex.

Researchers believe these changes in brain activity accounted for changes in the empathic accuracy scores of the participants.“These findings raise the intriguing possibility that CBCT may have enhanced empathic abilities by increasing activity in parts of the brain that are of central importance for our ability to recognize the emotional states of others,” Raison said.

“An important next step will be to evaluate the effects of CBCT on diverse populations that may particularly benefit from enhanced empathic accuracy, such as those suffering from high-functioning autism or severe depression.”Researchers believe the study findings support and contribute to a growing body of knowledge that indicates a CBCT style of meditation may have physical and emotional effects relevant to health and well-being.

For example, previous research at Emory found that practicing CBCT reduced emotional distress and enhanced physical resilience in response to stress in both healthy young adults and in high-risk adolescents in foster care.The study is published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.Source: Emory University

via Compassionate Meditation Can Boost Empathy | Psych Central News.

 

Templeton Foundation awards grant for meditation research

Templeton Foundation awards grant for meditation research

 

November 19th, 2012

 

The John Templeton Foundation has awarded a grant of $2.3 million over three years to continue and extend the Shamatha Project, the most comprehensive investigation yet conducted into the effects of intensive meditation training on mind and body.

 

The Shamatha Project is led by Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis.

 

This inaugural Templeton Prize Research Grant, “Quantifiable Constituents of Spiritual Growth,” was announced Nov. 18 during a special session at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Chicago in honor of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, winner of the 2012 Templeton Prize, who gave a videotaped presentation.

 

“This project represents a true long-term perspective on the developmental consequences of intensive meditation training. Nothing quite like this has been done before,” Saron said.

 

At several meetings sponsored by the Massachusetts-based Mind and Life Institute, Saron has presented results from the Shamatha Project to the Dalai Lama, who has endorsed the project. Saron and his colleagues have also shared results from this research with scientific and lay audiences around the world.

 

“The Shamatha project is a remarkable scientific odyssey that is changing our understanding not only of how contemplative practices may affect human cognition, emotion and brain function, but also how we view the relationship between mental function and health. This major award from the Templeton Foundation will help Dr. Saron and our team expand the boundaries of this innovative research,” said Ron Mangun, dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UC Davis and a co-investigator on the grant.

 

With the new funding, Saron, project co-director Bajinder Sahdra, a former postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis and now a lecturer at the University of Western Sydney in Australia, Mangun and their colleagues will continue and expand the analysis of data from the Shamatha Project. The latest phase of the project will address two big questions: After going through intensive meditation training, what differentiates people who develop their lives in ways that relieve suffering for themselves and others close to them from those who do not; and how are measured changes in cognitive, psychological and physiological processes related to peoples’ life experience years later?

 

Michael Murray, executive vice president of programs at the John Templeton Foundation, said that the foundation was impressed with the size and scope of the project.

 

“There are more data points per subject in this study than I have ever encountered in a meditation research project,” Murray said. “The dataset is unique and unusually multidimensional in the sense of taking multiple measurements of cognition, behavior, emotion, experience, biomarkers, neural indicators, self-report and other-person judgment, and then repeating many of these at multiple time-points.”

 

The project is investigating the effects of two three-month retreats held in 2007. A total of 60 volunteers received intensive daily instruction from Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace in developing calm, focused attention and cultivating compassionate concern. Throughout the retreats, they were tested for a variety of psychological, physiological and cognitive measures. Participants in the second retreat were also interviewed about their experiences during training, and all participants provided spoken accounts of their experiences five and 15 months later.

 

In a series of papers and conference presentations, the team has described how retreat participants reported improved psychological functioning, were better able to sustain visual attention and inhibit habitual responses, and were more engaged with and sympathetic to suffering. Participants also showed greater activation of attention-related brain regions during meditation after training and had improved measures of cellular health that have been linked to aging. In addition, those participants who reported greater mindfulness had diminished stress hormone levels.

 

The new funds will aid completion of analysis of the original data set as well as support follow-up data collection. In new work, the researchers will carry out structured telephone interviews with the participants, assessing their experiences of the retreat six years later and investigating what changes it made in their lives and how those changes continue to affect them.

 

Saron, Sahdra and colleagues will use a sophisticated network analysis to see which physiological and psychological measures made during the retreats are associated with long-term personal growth years later—and which are not.

 

Additionally, they will interview other people, including family members, colleagues and friends of the retreat participants, to garner their observations about the long-term changes in the participants.

 

“We’re relating how things that we can measure in the laboratory reflect meaningful changes in peoples’ lives,” Saron said.

 

“A common way people think about meditation is as though it is a formulaic process. Take a person, follow the instructions, obtain a result—but meditation is not so mechanical,” Saron said. “We view it as a commitment to investigate the nature of one’s mind in a developmental process of becoming familiar with ‘the world within.’ This promotes a more knowing and friendly attitude towards oneself. We think this greater comfort ‘within our own skin’ will be reflected in mental and physical health, our actions in the world, and felt by those with whom we interact.”

 

“We fundamentally care about individual differences,” Saron said. “Why do people change? How can we develop a sense of purpose?”

 

A sense of “purpose in life” is gaining increased recognition within the field of psychology as a key to sustained health, Saron explained, whether or it not involves meditation as such.

 

Saron sees a wide potential impact for the project to health and medicine, law, business and society at large. He has spoken about the Shamatha Project to audiences as diverse as former California state prison administrators, agricultural leaders, and major corporations such as Google. Saron is currently working with researchers at UC San Francisco and other colleagues to develop a short intervention to help reduce stress for parents of children with autism.

Provided by UC Davis

Templeton Foundation awards grant for meditation research.