How Mindfulness Changes the Brain

The Harvard Business Review outlines key research on the neural mechanisms underlying meditation. 

There’s some research behind all that mindfulness hype.

Sara Lazar, an associate researcher in the psychiatry department at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, along with her colleagues, outlines key neural mechanisms underlying meditation.

One of those major findings? How meditaton affects self-regulation:

Meditators demonstrate superior performance on tests of self-regulation, resisting distractions and making correct answers more often than non-meditators. They also show more activity in the ACC [the anterior cingulate cortex, a structure located deep inside the forehead, behind the brain’s frontal lobe] than non-meditators. In addition to self-regulation, the ACC is associated with learning from past experience to support optimal decision-making. Scientists point out that the ACC may be particularly important in the face of uncertain and fast-changing conditions.

So there’s a possibility that those who practice mindfulness can change their brains—in how they make decisions, stay focused, and respond to emotional triggers. It’s something that science columnist Sharon Begley explores in Mindful magazine: how mind training can strengthen the brain circuitry that supports emotional resilience.

But how long before we see enduring results?

“The structure of the brain can change in 1.5 hours of practice,” renowned neuroscientist Richie Davidson said at the Train Your Brain webcast in New York City in the fall. “Really short amounts can make a difference.”

It’s a major aspect of the meditation and well-being research now underway at Davidson’s lab at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: that 1) You can train your brain to change 2) that change is measurable 3) and new ways of thinking can change it for the better.

Take a look at Davidson’s research scope and how the Center’s work shows how well-being can actually change the brain.

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