MRI Shows Meditation Rebuilds Brain’s Gray Matter

MRI Shows Meditation Rebuilds Brain’s Gray Matter

MRI Shows Meditation Rebuilds Brain’s Gray Matter

Test subjects taking part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation showed results that astonished even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University.  The study was led by a Harvard-affiliated team of researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the team’s MRI scans documented for the very first time in medical history how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter.  “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Sue McGreevey of MGH writes: “Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.”  Until now, that is.  The participants spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises, and this is all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.  McGreevey adds: “Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.”

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany

 

Source:  feelguide.com

Free will is an illusion

Free Will

Free Will

 

Let’s say you’re approaching a fork in the road, and at the very last minute you decide to take the right fork. Common sense says that you made at active decision to take the right fork — a decision you made more or less a split second before you shifted your body ever so slightly in the direction of said fork.

But recent research reveals that decisions such as these may have much deeper neurological roots — so deep, in fact, that scientists can observe patterns of brain activity that allow them to predict the outcome of decisions like these long before a person is even conscious of his own decision.

In other words, scientists have thrown a serious wrench in the works of the notion of free will.

Nature’s Kerri Smith writes:

As humans, we like to think that our decisions are under our conscious control – that we have free will. Philosophers have debated that concept for centuries, and now [neuroscientist John-Dylan] Haynes and other experimental neuroscientists are raising a new challenge. They argue that consciousness of a decision may be a mere biochemical afterthought, with no influence whatsoever on a person’s actions. According to this logic, they say, free will is an illusion.”

In the words of Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London: “We feel we choose, but we don’t.”

 

Source:   io9.com

Internet kill’s brains

Does The Internet Make You Dumb? Top German Neuroscientist Says Yes – And Forever:

Does The Internet Make You Dumb? Top German Neuroscientist Says Yes - And Forever

Does The Internet Make You Dumb? Top German Neuroscientist Says Yes – And Forever

Dr. Manfred Spitzer knows that people find his arguments provocative. In his first book, he warned parents of the very real dangers of letting their children spend too much time in front of the TV. Now, in a second book called Digitale Demenz [Digital Dementia], he’s telling them that teaching young kids finger-counting games is much better for them than letting them explore on a laptop.

Spitzer, 54, may be a member of the slide-rule generation that learned multiplication tables by heart, but his work as a neuropsychiatrist has shown him that when young children spend too much time using a computer, their brain development suffers and that the deficits are irreversible and cannot be made up for later in life.

South Korean doctors were the first to describe this phenomenon, and dubbed it digital dementia – whence the title of Spitzer’s book. Simplistically, the message can be summed up this way: the Internet makes you dumb. And it is of course a message that outrages all those who feel utterly comfortable in the digital world. In the aftermath of the publication of Spitzer’s book, they have lost no time venting their wrath across Germany.

And yet Spitzer has accumulated a wealth of scientific information that gives his thesis solid underpinnings, and the studies and data he draws on offer more than enough room for consternation.

Everything leaves traces in the brain

According to his study, many young people today use more than one medium at a time: they place calls while playing computer games or writing e-mails. That means that some of them are packing 8.5 hours of media use per day into 6.5 hours. Multitasking like this comes at the cost of concentration – experiments by American researchers have established this. And to Spitzer, those results mean just one thing: “Multitasking is not something we should be encouraging in future generations.”

Because everything a person does leaves traces in the brain. When development is optimum, memory links are formed and built on during the first months and years of life, and the structure adds up to a kind of basic foundation for everything else we learn. Scientists call this ability of the brain to adjust to new challenges “neuroplasticity.” It is one of the reasons for the evolutionary success of the human species. Spitzer also sees it as a source of present danger.

When drivers depend exclusively on their navigation technology, they do not develop the ability to orient themselves, although of course the brain offers them the possibility of learning how to do so. The same applies to children who use electronic styluses on a SMART board instead of learning how to write — the brain is kept in check. And because computers take over many classrooms and other functions that are actually good practice for kids, “it inevitably has a negative effect on learning,” Spitzer argues.

Digital media should be banned from classrooms

Stating that there have so far been no independent studies “that unequivocally establish that computers and screens in the classroom makes learning any more effective,” Spitzer goes so far as to recommend that digital media be banned from the classroom. Even more drastically, he writes: “In reality, using digital media in kindergarten or primary school is actually a way of getting children addicted.” Strong stuff for the generations who take computers and the Internet for granted, using them as a source of information and a space to communicate via social networks — and who enjoy doing so. The Internet has become the fourth cultural technology, alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.

Spitzer quotes Swiss pedagogue and educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), who wrote that the process of learning involves the heart along with the brain and the hands. He believes it would be better if kids learned finger games to help them deal with numbers, instead of relying on computers. In a country like Germany, whose major resource is smart people and innovative ideas, maybe we should be taking Spitzer’s warnings more seriously.

What the internet is doing to our Brains: