In a new study, functional MRIs show that meditators may be able to switch off areas of the brain linked to autism and schizophrenia
PROBLEM: Meditation is powerful. It can aid in curbing smoking, coping with cancer, and preventing psoriasis; and its ability to help people stay focused has been associated with increased happiness. Can understanding what happens in the brain when we sit and focus lead to clues on how to treat psychiatric disorders as well?
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METHODOLOGY: Yale researchers led by assistant professor of psychiatry Judson A. Brewer conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on both experienced and novice meditators as they practiced different meditation techniques.
RESULTS: Experienced meditators had decreased activity in the brain's default mode network -- areas that have been linked to disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit, hyperactivity, and Alzheimer's disease. When this network was active, brain regions associated with self-monitoring and cognitive control were activated as well in experienced meditators but not in novices. This suggests that trained meditators may be able to simultaneously monitor and suppress the emergence of "me" thoughts and the urge to daydream. In pathological forms, these states are associated with diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.