[Paleopsych] BBC: Meditation 'Brain Training" Clues
checker at panix.com
Fri Jun 17 00:57:59 UTC 2005
Meditation 'brain training' clues
Published: 2005/06/13 00:15:38 GMT
[Thanks to Laird for this.]
Meditating monks are giving clues about how the brain's basic responses can
be overridden, researchers say.
Australian scientists gave Buddhist monks vision tests, where each eye was
concurrently shown a different image.
Most people's attention would automatically fluctuate - but the monks were
able to focus on just one image.
Writing in Current Biology, the scientists say their ability to override this
basic mental response indicates how the brain can be trained. Meditation is a
way of tapping into a process of manipulating brain activity Dr Toby Collins,
Oxford Centre for the Science of the Mind
Researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of California,
Berkley, studied 76 Tibetan Buddhist monks at mountain retreats in India. The
monks had undergone between five and 54 years of meditative training. In the
tests, they were given special goggles that meant they could see a different
image with each eye. Normally, the brain would rapidly alternate between both -
termed perceptual or visual rivalry. It had been thought that this was a basic
and involuntary response.
However, the monks - who carried out "one-point" meditation, where they focus
attention on a single object or thought - were able to focus on one image.
Monks who had undergone the longest and most intense meditative training were
able to focus their attention on just one of the images for up to 12 minutes.
Olivia Carter, of the University of Queensland, said: "The monks showed they
were able to block out external information.
"This is an initial step in understanding how their brains work.
"It would now be good to carry out further tests using imaging techniques to
see exactly what the differences are in the brains of the monks."
She said that could direct researchers to a broader understanding of how
meditation influences what happens in the brain when someone is deciding
to give something their attention, and what happens when they choose not to
dwell on bad news, or to calm down.
Ms Carter added: "Buddhist monks often report that if something negative
happens they are able to digest it and move on.
"People who use meditation, including the Dalai Lama have said that the
ability to control and direct your thoughts can be very beneficial in terms of
Dr Toby Collins, of the Oxford Centre for the Science of the Mind, told the
BBC News website: "Meditation is a way of tapping into a process of
manipulating brain activity."
He said the idea that meditation trained the brain to attend to just one
thing at a time fitted in with previous research.
He added: "How that's done, we don't yet know. But studies using fMRI
(functional magnetic resonance imaging) can show what's happening in the
More information about the paleopsych