Meditation Brings Emotional Transformations in Brain

By Arshdeep Sarao, Epoch Times
November 15, 2012 9:47 pm Last Updated: April 15, 2013 9:17 pm


U.S. neurologists have discovered that eight weeks of compassion meditation training can produce long-term brain changes and development of positive traits.

The team found that meditation improves emotional stability and response to stress by altering the activity of the amygdala—a brain region involved in regulating emotions and attention.

“This study contributes to a growing body of evidence from scientific studies that meditation practice affects the body and brain in measurable ways,” Dr. Gaëlle Desbordes from Massachusetts General Hospital told The Epoch Times via email.

To study the effects of meditation, adult participants were trained for eight weeks in either compassion meditation or mindful-attention (to develop awareness of breathing, thought, and emotions). A third control group was given health education.

 Three weeks before and after training, participants’ brains were scanned while viewing a series of images with different emotional content.

The mindful-attention group showed a reduction in amygdala activation to all emotional stimuli.

“This suggests that mindful attention training reduced emotional reactivity, which is consistent with the overarching hypothesis that mindful meditation practice reduces perceived stress and improves emotional stability,” Desbordes told The Epoch Times.

In the compassion meditation group, the positive emotional content led to similar brain scan results, but the participants who meditated more reported increased amygdala activity in response to images of people in various situations of suffering.

“We think these two forms of meditation cultivate different aspects of mind,” Desbordes said in a press release. “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,” she added.

No effects were observed in the control group.

“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,” she said in the release. 

The researchers concluded that meditation training impacts emotional processing in everyday life, not just during meditation, and can result in the long-term development of certain traits.

Read the research paper here.

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