Attention and meditation have long been linked to positive health benefits. Now a small new study suggests that after a short period of meditation, such benefits can arise – even if you haven’t tried before.
The study consisted of 17 people, so we could not do any sweeping generalizations of it, but the volunteers participated in a 20-minute attention practice in advance to cope better with both physical pain and negativity emotions.
None of the participants had previously practiced meditation, as often is not the case with experiments such as this. The results therefore suggest that the brain can quickly grasp the state of mind caused by meditation.
“The findings support the idea that momentary awareness regulates emotional intensity by changing initial assessments of the emotional significance of stimuli that have consequences on the clinical treatment of pain and emotion,” the researchers write in their publication.
The study included two sets of tests: one in which something warm or hot was placed on the forearm and one in which negative or neutral imaging was presented. For example, a negative image may be a mutilated body, while a neutral image may be somewhat like a chair.
The tests were conducted half the time the participants were told to act of course, and half the time the participants were told to try and incorporate the information they had learned from the crash course on consciousness.
During the process of this, the scientists also used fMRI scans to see how the simulated brains were doing. This showed an interesting feature: a significant decrease in brain activity associated with pain and negative emotions while volunteers were vigilant.
For the physical test, it was “as if the brain reacted to a warm temperature, not very heat,” according to neuroscientist Hedy Kober from Yale University. The testing was conducted at higher temperatures.
Moreover, such neurological changes did not occur in the pre-frontier brain cortex, the part where conscious and rational decision-making is being processed–this suggests that using techniques of consciousness can affect our brains at an under-conscious level, without deliberate willingness effort.
Previous studies have shown how low brain activity and meditation can enhance our health in several respects. However, the value of this research is minimal as it is.
This in turn might provide doctors with new ways of trying to deal with physical and mental problems, although further research is needed to see how such ideas work in a wider and more diverse population.
“There can be clinical advantages to the practice of attention in chronic conditions when suffering from pain or negative emotions, even without the prolonged practice of meditation,” said Kober.
The research was published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.