Emory Report
September 15, 2008
Volume 61, Number 4



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15, 2008
Zen practice speeds minds’ recovery

By Quinn Eastman

Experienced Zen meditators can clear their minds of distractions more quickly than novices, according to a new brain imaging study.

After being interrupted by a word-recognition task, experienced meditators’ brains returned faster to their pre-interruption condition, Emory researchers found.

The results were published in the September issue of PLoS (Public Library of Science ONE.

Emory psychiatry researcher Giuseppe Pagnoni, who recently moved to University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy, and his co-workers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine changes in blood flow in the brain when people meditating were interrupted.

Scientists have previously observed that for most people, the brain looks quite active even when they’re not doing anything in particular.

“A consistent set of brain regions display higher activity during wakeful rest than during a variety of demanding tasks,” the authors write. That set of regions is sometimes called the “default network.”

After interruption, experienced meditators were able to bring activity in parts of the brain in the default network back to baseline faster than novice meditators.

That skill could be an important tool against psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, where patients display excessive rumination or the increased production of task-unrelated thoughts, Pagnoni says.