An article in OregonLive.com reports about various studies performed by different scientists related to meditation and the brain.
The first one, performed in the University of Oregon by Michael Pisner and Yi-Yuan Tang, compared focusing ability of college students, those who received meditation training and those who didn’t. After five days, meditators outpaced non-meditators on the attention test, and they became significantly better at handling stress. Saliva samples revealed lower levels of the hormone cortisol when the meditators were subjected to an anxiety-inducing math quiz.
Another study, in the University of Wisconsin at Madison, showed that meditation may sharpen the ability to focus by training the brain to apply limited processing power more efficiently. In this study, volunteers had to identify two numbers flashed on a computer screen amid a stream of letters. After three months of meditation training, volunteers were able to name the second number significantly more often. EEG recordings of brain activity showed that those subjects devoted less effort to finding the first target, thus freeing more brainpower to focus on finding the second.
A study at San Francisco University showed that meditation improved pain endurance. They mapped electrical activity in the brain of a yoga master while he had his tongue pierced. The research found that the pattern of brain activity suggests that the meditating yogi entered a state similar to that produced by pain-numbing drugs.
Another study showed that long-term* meditators showed a 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in brain activity in response to pain* compared with a control group of non-meditators.
A few studies suggest that meditation can change how the brain responds to advancing age. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta compared 13 older adults who regularly practiced Zen meditation with non-meditators of similar age. Among the latter, shrinking brain size and declining performance on attention tests correlated with age: The older the subject, the smaller the brain volume and the worse the performance. Among meditators, advancing age did not correlate with brain shrinkage or declining attention skills.
The findings match those of a 2005 study at Harvard Medical School, which found that brain regions involved in focusing attention and processing sense information were thicker in meditators than age-matched non-meditators.