Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds The Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks

Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds The Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks

by FEELguide • November 19, 2014 • Health, Spirituality, The Human BrainComments (0) • 865336

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. You can read more about the remarkable study by visiting Harvard.edu.  If this is up your alley then you need to read this: “Listen As Sam Harris Explains How To Tame Your Mind (No Religion Required)

Trait anxiety is reflected in EEG alpha response to stress

·         Susan M Nowak1,  Thaddeus J Marczynski


The Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale was used to rank 24 healthy student volunteers according to trait anxiety level. A bipolar occipital scalp electrode was used to record the resting eyes-closed EEG responses to 15 ‘neutral’ tone stimuli and response to stress inducing questions.

Eighteen subjects responded to the experimental paradigm by showing phasic changes in alpha-type synchronization. In response to 15 neutral tone stimuli, 13 (73%) subjects yielded mean alpha blocking scores, while 5 subjects (28%) had mean augmentation scores. Across all 18 subjects, trait anxiety was found to be significantly correlated with alpha response tendency to tone. The high trait anxiety group, when compared to low anxiety group, showed a significantly greater tendency toward alpha augmentation both in response to sound stimuli and stress questions. No significant correlation was found between trait anxiety and the resting alpha index. Alpha response tendency to tone stimuli was significantly correlated with the resting alpha index over the entire population of 24 subjects, and for 12 subjects of the high anxiety group alone.

When alpha responses were measured regardless of direction (alpha blocking or augmenting), the high anxiety group, compared to the low anxiety group, was much more homogeneous in the magnitude of responses, as shown by smaller group mean values during various phases of acute stress and significantly smaller variance of the means. When the individual mean responses during various phases of stress were measured, taking into account the direction and magnitude of responses and particularly their variance, subjects in the high anxiety group were significantly more consistent and predictable than subjects in the low anxiety group.

The possible relationship between alpha enhancement, internal inhibitory processes, and behavioral rigidity was discussed.

Six subjects responded to the experimental paradigm with predominance of 5–6/sec theta activity which was felt to be a genuine neocortical pattern associated with internal inhibitory processes. The results were analyzed by excluding and including the ‘theta subjects’.