Research on How Mindfulness Changes the Brain (and How It Doesn’t) 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction may not change the structure of our brains, but scientists say that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing


It’s a popular headline in the media, and a topic that’s been covered many times in the past decade: mindfulness not only helps to improve well-being and reduce stress, but it can actually change our brains. 

Researchers can measure brain changes both as function (how well our brains perform certain actions, and the interactions or connections between different brain regions) and structure (the physical make-up of the brain). Previous research on brain structure has found an increase in gray matter volume (GMV) and gray matter density (GMD) in various brain regions of participants who have completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. 

Humans need gray matter to learn and remember, make decisions, and regulate emotions. So more of the gray stuff (and a greater density of it) is thought to be a good thing. “Structural changes in the brain with meditation has always been an appealing possibility, because it would underscore the extent of human neuroplasticity…that arises purely as a consequence of mental practice,” says Richie Davidson, world-renowned neuroscientist and Director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM).