Yale researchers have found that meditation appears to help brain switch off areas associated with daydreaming as well as psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
Meditation’s ability to help people stay focused on the moment has been associated with increased happiness levels, said Judson A. Brewer, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study.
Understanding how meditation works will aid investigation into a host of diseases, he said.
The Yale team conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging scans on both experienced and novice meditators as they practiced three different meditation techniques.
They found that experienced meditators had decreased activity in areas of the brain called the default mode network, which has been implicated in lapses of attention and disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and even the build-up of beta amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease.
The scans also showed that when the default mode network was active, brain regions associated with self-monitoring and cognitive control were co-activated in experienced meditators but not novices.
This may indicate that meditators are constantly monitoring and suppressing the emergence of "me" thoughts, or mind wandering. In pathological forms, these states are associated with diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.
The meditators did this both during meditation, and also when just resting — not being told to do anything in particular.
This may indicate that meditators have developed a "new" default mode in which there is more present-cantered awareness, and less "self"-cantered, say the researchers.
The study has been published early this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.