A new study conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reports that meditation may help the brain "turn down the volume" on distractions.
In particular, the study examined the effects of meditation on the alpha rhythm, an important brain wave that is active in the cells that process touch, sight and sound in the cortex and helps suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations while regulating the flow of information between brain regions.
The study tested 12 healthy volunteers with no previous experience with meditation. Half of them participated in an eight-week meditation program and the others were asked not to partake in any meditation activities during the study.
The type of mediation used in the study is called mindfulness meditation. As part of mindfulness meditation, practitioners focus nonjudgmental attention on their sensations, feelings and state of mind. Previous studies have suggested that mindfulness meditation helps people pay attention better when they need to complete a task. Researchers involved in the current study wanted to investigate whether individuals trained in mindfulness meditation also exhibited enhanced regulation of their alpha rhythms.
At the end of the eight weeks, the participants who completed the mediation program displayed changes in their alpha rhythms that suggested faster and more pronounced responses to cues intended to affect their attention and focus.
"Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall," says Catherine Kerr, PhD, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report. "Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts."
Download the study online: "Effects of mindfulness meditation training on anticipatory alpha modulation in primary" somatosensory cortex"