Meditation changes

People who meditate say that the practice calms them and improves their performance on everyday tasks. There may be foundations of these benefits in the brain and immune system, a new study finds.

Psychologist Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and his colleagues studied 41 employees of a biotechnology company, 25 of whom completed an 8-week meditation program. The scientists measured brain wave activity in all participants before, immediately following, and 4 months after the meditation program. Volunteers also received an influenza vaccination at the end of the program and gave blood samples 1 month and 2 months later, enabling the researchers to assess the volunteers’ immune responses to the vaccine.

Only the meditators exhibited increases in brain wave activity across the front of the left hemisphere, Davidson’s group reports in the July/August Psychosomatic Medicine. Earlier studies had suggested that this neural response accompanies both reductions in negative emotions and surges in positive emotions. The employees who took the course reported subsequent drops in negative feelings but no change in pleasant feelings.

Meditators displayed more-vigorous antibody responses to the vaccine than their nonmeditating peers did.


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Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.