(Article from DISCOVER Magazine, January 2004)


Neuroscience – Meditation is often promoted as a tool for alleviating stress and anxiety, but exactly why it calms the nerves has long mystified scientists. A study published in February offer a few clues. For the first time ever, a team of medical researchers led by Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, showed that meditation activates an area of the brain associated with positive emotions. A randomly selected group of middle-class volunteers with stressful jobs took an eight-week course in Mindfulness Meditation given by author Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. A control group from the same pool of volunteers did not receive any meditation training. To establish a baseline, everyone was given electroencephalograms.


After the course, both groups were asked to pick two intense emotional experiences they’d had – one good, one bad – and write about them while their brains’ electrical activity was monitored. Whether they summoned a happy or an unhappy memory, the meditation group showed markedly more electrical activity in their left prefrontal cortex – the locus of positive, optimistic emotions – than they had in their baseline test or than the control group had in either reading. “This shows that these changes are not just ‘in your head,’ so to speak,” says Davidson. “The meditation produced real changes in the brain.”

                                                                                                               - Michael W. Robbins