rama0278: October 2011 Archives

Your moment of Zen

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Meditation pose
Call it Zen or Transcendental meditation (TM) or Mindfulness meditation (MM), or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)...they all relate to different forms of contemplation as a means to calm the body and mind. Meditation is an ancient practice with origins in India and China that has, in the past few decades, experienced an explosion of popularity. Claims regarding its benefits include improvements in concentration, perceptual sensitivity, memory, reaction times, and relaxation. Since we have been studying the process of memory, I was curious to find out more about the links between meditation and memory.

There is a positive correlation between the practice of meditation and memory. In recent years, mindfulness-meditation (MM) and Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) have been studied by neuroscientists and the results show that MM results in an increase in the cerebral cortex thickness which is in turn achieved by an increase in the blood flow to the region. Remember the London taxi drivers' phenomenal memory and the increased activity in their hippocampuses? Meditation increases the volume of the hippocampus, according to studies done at UCLA.

There is one study that caught my eye that compares Magnetic Resonance (MR) images of participants before and after they underwent an 8-week program of MBSR. Results included increased gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum. These areas are associated with learning, memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. There were NO downsides mentioned in ANY study. In fact, since major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder subjects have associated with them lower volumes of the hippocampuses, researchers are seriously considering the use of meditation in such situations.

Results of MBSR

The scientists acknowledge that there may be an element of selection bias since the participants were people who had voluntarily (or at the instruction of a medical practitioner) signed up for the MBSR program and the control group consisted of people on the said waiting list. Confounds of the study are that MBSR includes group social interaction, stress-reduction education as well as gentle stretching any of which might be the real reason for the highly favorable results.

Don't let that confound you however. Go ahead....take your moment(s) of Zen.


Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density
Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar
Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging - 30 January 2011 (Vol. 191, Issue 1, Pages 36-43, DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006)

Mindfulness training affects attention--or is it attentional effort?
Jensen, Christian Gaden; Vangkilde, Signe; Frokjaer, Vibe; Hasselbalch, Steen G.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Sep 12, 2011, No Pagination


Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference
Norman A. S. Farb, Zindel V. Segal, Helen Mayberg, Jim Bean, Deborah McKeon, Zainab Fatima, and Adam K. Anderson
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2007 December; 2(4): 313-322.
Prepublished online 2007 August 13.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

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Have you ever walked up to a door like this and then tried to push the door open to get to the other side?


The next time that I do it, I will probably not feel as silly about it because of having read about the new research that delves into the human brain's ability to understand mirror-image words.

It turns out that we actually process chiral (mirror-imaged) words, presented individually, automatically and unconsciously at least for a few instants. The visual system rotates the words reflected in the mirror and recognizes them at a very early stage of 150 - 250 milliseconds. The brain then realizes that there is something different about this scene and changes the processing steps accordingly.

The research was conducted at the Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Languages in Spain and involved the monitoring the brain activity of 27 participants by use of encephalograms. The subjects were shown words for 50 milliseconds on a computer screen in one of two ways:

- words where some of the letters or other information were rotated or

- words where the entire word was rotated as in
HTUOM instead of MOUTH

The encephalogram results show that, at between 150 - 250 msec, the brain's response was the same in both cases as when the words are read normally. This means that the visual system sees both forms as equivalent.

The researchers believe that this helps explain why a lot of children have trouble distinguishing p from q, d from b, and write their 's' in the mirror-image form. They further hypothesize that the acquisition of reading skills somehow inhibits the processing of chiral words as normal words in most of us. The scientists believe that further investigations will help us understand dyslexia and dysgrafia better.

Research by other scientists is not in complete agreement with this study and there have not been many investigations in this field. More studies have been done comparing normal pictures with their mirror-image counterparts and have found similar brain activity in those cases. Studies using fMRI by Stanislas Dehaene at the French medical research agency, INSERM, does not show the same brain activity with mirror-image words as the Spanish research does but they believe that if they were to have children or illiterate adults as the subjects, the findings would be different. Again, they believe that the acquisition of reading skills changes the way we process words.

Most of the time, anyway. I am sure that I will still have occasions when I will be pushing a door instead of pulling it.

Sources: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110331080037.htm

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