Meditate and thicken your cortex

Neuroreport reports research showing that meditation thickens your cortex.

We know that meditation changes brain wave patterns. But could that be due to changes in the brain’s physical structure? That’s the question the researchers asked. They stuck the meditators in an MRI machine, measured their cortical thickness (how?), and found it had increased.

From the abstract:

Magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess cortical thickness in 20 participants with extensive Insight meditation experience, which involves focused attention to internal experiences. Brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing were thicker in meditation participants than matched controls, including the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula. Between-group differences in prefrontal cortical thickness were most pronounced in older participants, suggesting that meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning. Finally, the thickness of two regions correlated with meditation experience. These data provide the first structural evidence for experience-dependent cortical plasticity associated with meditation practice.

That’s great, because I’ve been really worried about that age-related cortical thinning thing.

The article itself is available only by subscription, but according to a news report on the findings:

Most of the brain regions identified to be changed through meditation were found in the right hemisphere, which is essential for sustaining attention. And attention is the focus of the meditation.

Dogen, in his later years, emphasized that to find the truth you would have to leave your family and join a monastery, but this study was of regular people with jobs and families who meditated just 40 minutes per day on average.

It seems obvious that a thicker cortex is a “good” thing, but why? Is it that new brain cells have grown, or simply that the intra-neuronal geometry and distance changes? Which layer of the cortex grew thicker, and how does that tie into theories of cortical functioning? Finally, if the cortex grows thicker presumably some other parts of the brain are getting compressed—which ones, and with what effect?

2 Responses to “Meditate and thicken your cortex”

  1. Marshall Curson Says:

    Cortical thinning has always been associated with the psychotic mental disorders. It has now been demonstrated (Andreasen et al) that the thinning may be the result of the medications used to treat the disorder. In any event, patients suffering from the schizophreniform disorders should be taught mindfulness meditation to offset these deleterious changes, and, possibly control their symptoms as well.

  2. Ava Says:

    Can emotional stress in early childhood cause structural damage in brain?

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