There’s been a lot of discussion about what kinds of mental activities are actually capable of changing the brain. Some promises of bolstered IQ and enhanced brain function via specially-designed "brain games" have fizzled out. Meanwhile, meditation and mindfulness training h
ave accumulated some impressive evidence, suggesting that the practices can change not only the structure and function of the brain, but also our behavior and moment-to-moment experience.
Now, a new study from the Max Planck Institute finds that three different types of meditation training are linked to changes in corresponding brain regions.
The results, published in Science Advances, have a lot of relevance to schools, businesses and, of course, the general public.
Participants, who were between 20 and 55 years of age, engaged in three different types of training for three months each, totaling a nine-month study period. The first training was dubbed the “Presence” module, , and was very similar to focused awareness meditation, an ancient practice that's been studied a lot in recent years. The second one was called “Affect,” which sought to enhance empathy and compassion for others—participants learned “loving-kindness” (metta) meditation. Lastly was the "Perspective" module, akin to mindfulness or open-monitoring meditation.
The researchers wagered that training in each of these methods would lead to volume increases in corresponding brain areas. And this was largely what they found, as they scanned the participants’ brains at the end of each module and compared groups against one another. Training in Presence was linked to enhanced thickness in the anterior prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which are known to be strongly involved in attention. Affect training was linked to increased thickness in regions known to be involved in socially driven emotions like empathy; and Perspective training associated with changes in areas involved in understanding the mental states of others, and, interestingly, inhibiting the perspective of oneself.