* This Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.
How Mindfulness Helps Our Brains Focus
"Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Anticipatory Alpha Modulation in Primary Somatosensory Cortex"
Kerr, C.E., et. al. Brain Research Bulletin, Vol. 85 (3-4), May 2011, 96-103.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing attention on our thoughts, breathing, and bodily sensations. This study suggests how it can also help us tune out unwanted distractions. After non-meditators went through an eight-week mindfulness meditation training, researches looked at their brain activity, comparing it with their brain activity before the training and the brain activity of people who hadn’t completed the training. They found that the meditators showed a significantly improved ability—and a much stronger ability than non-meditators—to regulate a brain wave crucial to helping the mind screen out unwanted or distracting information. The results suggest how meditation may affect the brain to improve focus. —Jason Marsh
Meditation Gets Your Mind in Touch with Your Body
"Coherence Between Emotional Experience and Physiology: Does Body Awareness Training Have an Impact?"
Sze, J.A., Gyurak, A., Yuan, J.W., Levenson, R.W. Emotion, Vol. 10 (6), December 2010, 803-814.
Dancers are assumed to be in touch with their bodies, but this study suggests meditators may have them beat. Experienced Vipassana meditators were compared with either active modern or ballet dancers, along with participants who didn’t have training in any of these techniques. All participants watched emotional film clips while their heart rates were measured. After each clip was over, they gave their perception of what their heart rate had been while viewing the clip. Meditators made the most accurate assessments of their heart rates, while dancers were only moderately correct and non-experienced participants were the least. Though the researchers agree that physical activities like these promote mind-body awareness, they note that meditation seems to encourage the strongest conscious awareness of one’s body. —Bernie Wong