Research on Meditation Practice and Neuroplasticity

Now and then, one stumbles upon claims that something is ‘”scientifically proven”. Especially in the context of meditation practice, I have come across such claims multiple times, but the people making those claims never seemed to provide a clear reference to academic research on the matter. So I was delighted when an article presenting such claims also included the name of the person responsible for the research and subsequent publication. After some probing around the internet, I managed to track down the original article by Sara Lazar et al. in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, published by Elsevier in 2010. I’ve included the abstract of the academic article below:

graymatterTherapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders. Here, we report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre–post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program. Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program. Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals. Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

(© 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.)

This is a fascinating bit of research, and I enjoyed reading the entire article. If you find the academic writing style a bit too dry for your taste, you can always read the psychcentral article by Rick Nauert. You can find both articles below:
> Nauert, Rick: Brain Structure Changes After Meditation, 2011
> Lazar, Sara, et al.: ‘Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density’ in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Elsevier, 2010.

Journal of Buddhist Ethics

I’m a big supporter of open-source culture, as I believe it’s one of the major ways the internet can help us redefine the way in which we interact with knowledge and the arts. I’m always particularly delighted when a source with good academic credentials decides to adopt such a model, and the Journal of Buddhist Ethics has done just that. It was founded by Damien Keown (University of London Goldsmiths College) and Charles S. Prebish (Penn State University) in 1994, and utilises a blog model to distribute its articles. You can download these articles as pdf files which include a copyright notice which is very much like what you find in creative commons licenses.

journalofbuddhistethicsDigital copies of this work may be made and distributed provided no change is made and no alteration is made to the content.

The material published in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics is, as is common practice in most academic journals, a mixture of articles and reviews of books in the same research field. Two examples of papers are Goodman, Charles A.: “Paternalist Deception in the Lotus Sutra, A Normative Assessment” (2011) and Sevilla, Anton Luis: “Founding Human Rights within Buddhism, Exploring Buddha-Nature as an Ethical Foundation” (2010). There’s more excellent papers by the likes David Loy as well as book reviews by Steven Heine.

All in all, this is an excellent free resource if you’re interested in academic buddhist studies.