Meditation is in the news a lot, especially with so much exciting research being conducted on the effects of meditation on the brain.
I recently read one such interesting study by Virginia Tech’s Read Montague, PhD in Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Dr. Montague et al. looked at the differences in decision making between Buddhist meditators and non-meditators, specifically at brain activity during decision making.
The researchers took functional MRIs while the 26 Buddhist meditators and 40 control participants played the Ultimatum game.
During this game, one player divides up a sum of money and the second player can either accept or reject the offer, which then ends the round.
The point is to see how someone reacts when they are given an offer they might perceive as “unfair.” It’s a trick question in a way however, because respondent gets nothing if they refuse the “unfair” offer.
In previous studies using this game, the anterior insula (associated with disgust and with determining social norm betrayal) was activated when offered an unfair division. In fact, the strength of this activity predicted whether the offer would be rejected.
In this study, a similar result was again found in the control participants. These participants accepted an unfair offer only ¼ of the time.
In the Buddhist meditators, however, the anterior insula showed no real activation during unfair offers. Interestingly, the meditators were willing to accept an “unfair” offer in more than ½ of the trials.
This could indicate that the meditators did not react with negative emotions with unfair offers. They instead drew upon the posterior insula, a part of the brain associated with interoception and attention to the present moment, when making their decision.
So what does this have to do with improved decision making?
Basically, the meditators stripped the negative emotion from the decision-making process, leaving what might be considered a more rational way of making decisions.
I bet that some of you are thinking: these meditators are suckers.
Perhaps, but think of it this way.
While many of us would disdainfully dismiss an offer of $10 that we felt was unfair, and thus end up with nothing, they took the “unfair” label off the offer and ended up with $10.
Who came out ahead in this scenario: the person with $10 who is no longer thinking about the incident or the person with nothing who is still righteously stewing about the unfairness of the offer?
Now who is the sucker?
There is a lot that we can offer our patients in the way of improved brain functioning, when we get them to see the possibilities that meditation can provide.
Check out our courses on mindfulness to learn more.
Has research like this convinced any of your “hard-sell” patients to try mindfulness meditation or perhaps to stick with a mindfulness regimen? Please leave a comment below.