People who practice meditation have found that it makes them calmer and more aware of their feelings and the world around them. It has been found to soothe anxiety and lower blood pressure. Now a new study out of the Max Planck Institute in Germany has found that different types of meditation actually changes the structure on the brain that relates to the areas of brain affected by the practice.
In the study, a group of subjects ranging from ages 20-55 were asked to participate in three different types of regular meditation practices over 9 months. The first was inspired by the “Presence” style practiced throughout history, where participants were taught to focus their attention, bringing it back when it wandered, and to attend to the breath and to their internal body sensations. The second meditation was “Affect” and was a partnered meditation meant to help build empathy. The final, called "Perspective," taught participants to be aware of their thoughts and to regard them non-judgmentally. Every three months, the participants would get a CAT scan.
This is what they found:
From the Forbes article:
The researchers wagered that training in each of these methods would lead to volume increases in corresponding brain areas. And this was largely what they found, as they scanned the participants’ brains at the end of each module and compared groups against one another. Training in Presence was linked to enhanced thickness in the anterior prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which are known to be strongly involved in attention. Affect training was linked to increased thickness in regions known to be involved in socially driven emotions like empathy; and Perspective training associated with changes in areas involved in understanding the mental states of others, and, interestingly, inhibiting the perspective of oneself.
The results are exciting in that they offer an even more nuanced look at how meditation can change the brain, and in a relatively short amount of time. Lots of research has found that experienced meditators have significantly altered brain structure and function, but a growing number of studies has also found that relatively brief meditation training in novices (for instance, the well-known eight-week MBSR program) can also shift brain function, improve well-being, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Pretty cool, huh? Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute did a talk on the World Economic Forum on the subject of brain development using the study. Watch it below.