Can meditation make you more creative?

Certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking even if you are not a practitioner. This is the outcome of a study by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato and her fellow researchers at Leiden University and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, published in Mindfulness.

Long-lasting influence
The study is a clear indication that you don’t need to be an experienced meditator to profit more from meditation. The findings support the belief that meditation can have a long-lasting influence on human cognition, including how we conceive new ideas. Besides experienced meditators, also novices may profit from meditation.

Different techniques, different effects
But the results demonstrate that not all forms of meditation have the same effect on creativity. Test persons performed better in divergent thinking (= thinking up as many possible solutions for a given problem) after Open Monitoring meditation (= being receptive to every thought and sensation). The researchers did not see this effect on divergent thinking after Focused Attention meditation (=focusing on a particular thought or object.)

Setup of the study
40 individuals participated in this study, who had to meditate for 25 minutes before doing their thinking tasks. There were both experienced mediators and people who never meditated before. The study investigated the influences of different types of meditative techniques on the two main ingredients of creativity:

Divergent thinking
Allows for many new ideas to be generated. It is measured using the so-called Alternate Uses Task method where participants are required to think up as many uses as possible for a particular object, such as a pen.

Convergent thinking
Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is a process whereby one possible solution for a particular problem is generated. This method is measured using the Remote Associates Task method, where three unrelated words are presented to the participants, words such as ‘time’, ‘hair’ and ‘stretch’. The participants are then asked to identify the common link: in this case, ‘long’.

Source: Medical News Today


Recreating The Brain

Can we replicate basic brain functions? In this talk, computational neuroscientist and Harvard Professor, David Cox reveals how vision works in the brain and explains how his research can help pave the way towards prosthetics that restore or enhance brain function, as well as enabling the design of computer algorithms that “see” like we do.


Weekly Neuroscience Update

The patterns of brain activity recorded in this fMRI scanner revealed how mental rest and reflection on past learning activities can boost future learning. Credit Jeff Luci.

The patterns of brain activity recorded in this fMRI scanner revealed how mental rest and reflection on past learning activities can boost future learning. Credit Jeff Luci.

A new study, which may have implications for approaches to education, finds that brain mechanisms engaged when people allow their minds to rest and reflect on things they’ve learned before may boost later learning.

Sixty-nine scientists at Stanford University and other institutions issued a statement that the scientific track record does not support the claims that so-called “brain games” actually help older adults boost their mental powers.

A new study examines link between brain cortex and food buying habits.

New research shows for the first time that engaging brain areas linked to so-called “off-task” mental activities (such as mind-wandering and reminiscing) can actually boost performance on some challenging mental tasks. The results advance our understanding of how externally and internally focused neural networks interact to facilitate complex thought.

We are more likely to be receptive to good news than bad, and researchers have gone some way to explaining why we prefer to look on the bright side.

Researchers have found a definitive link between gait – the way someone walks – and early changes in cognitive function in people with Parkinson’s diseaseAnd the findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience could mean that gait may be used as an early warning sign to help predict the development of cognitive impairment and dementia in Parkinson’s.

Exercise is one of the best ways to protect against dementia in later life and the earlier you start, the greater the effect, research suggests.

Finally this week, a previously unknown mechanism through which the brain produces new nerve cells after a stroke has been discovered at Lund University and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The findings have been published in the journal Science.


Like Valium and Oxycontin, without the Side Effects


A Buddhist monk—this one with a doctorate in cell biology—has teamed with two prominent neuroscientists to present the latest findings on what meditation does to the brain and how those changes to neural circuits have some of the trappings of what might be labeled a perfect drug—Prozac-like muting of depression symptoms or prophylaxis against PTSD (just two on the list). In this video Richard Davidson, Ph.D., presents their research at Stanford University in a talk entitled,  The Emergence of Contemplative Neuroscience.


Weekly Neuroscience Update

EvC dwarfism results from genetic mutations that disrupt the signaling pathway known as sonic hedgehog (Shh). Statistical analyses confirmed the significant negative association between EvC and bipolar disorder. This further suggested that the Shh pathway plays a role in bipolar disorder. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows the 3D structure of the Sonic Hedgehog protein. Credit Peter Znamenskiy/ Hall et al.

EvC dwarfism results from genetic mutations that disrupt the signaling pathway known as sonic hedgehog (Shh). Statistical analyses confirmed the significant negative association between EvC and bipolar disorder. This further suggested that the Shh pathway plays a role in bipolar disorder. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows the 3D structure of the Sonic Hedgehog protein. Credit Peter Znamenskiy/ Hall et al.

Researchers have identified what is likely a key genetic pathway underlying bipolar disorder, a breakthrough that could lead to better drugs for treating bipolar affective disorder, as well as depression and other related mood disorders.

Hubs are locations in the brain where different networks come together to help us think and complete mental tasks. Now, a new study offers a fresh view of how injury affects the brain. It finds damage to brain hubs disrupts our capacity to think and adapt to everyday challenges more severely than damage to locations distant from hubs.

Neuroscientists have found that a gene mutation that arose more than half a million years ago may be key to humans’ unique ability to produce and understand speech.

A paper published this month in Biological Psychiatry shows that children who spent their early years in these institutions have thinner brain tissue in cortical areas that correspond to impulse control and attention.

Researchers have found vital new evidence on how to target and reverse the effects caused by one of the most common genetic causes of Parkinson’s.

Neuroscientists and engineers at North Carolina’s Duke University have pioneered a method with which the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on the brain can be measured. The Duke team has made it possible to measure the response of a single neuron to an electromagnetic charge–something that has not before been possible. The work offers the potential to improve and initiate novel TMS therapy approaches.


How the human brain works

An animated tour around the brain.


Drugs, Addiction and the Brain

alcohol-addiction-brain-scan

I will be giving a talk on drugs, addiction and the brain for alcohol and drug awareness week  which is scheduled to take place November 17th – 21st 2014.

This talk will explain how the brain basically works and how and where drugs such as heroin, cocaine, alcohol and cannabis work in the brain. The concept of “reward” which is the property that is characteristic of many addictive drugs will also be discussed. The talk will be useful for those interested in learning about the diverse effects of drugs of abuse on the brain.

Details: Wednesday 19th November 7-9 pm at the Absolute Hotel, Limerick– Abbey Suite 3. Free Admission.


What Happens Inside The Musician’s Brain?

When musicians play, what is happening inside their brains? Scientists at Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development have discovered that while performing together, their neurological activity goes into a kind of synchronization mode – almost as though they were connected by a wireless network.


Weekly Neuroscience Update

Oligodendrocytes are formed by a type of stem cell in the brain called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), and are responsible for re-wrapping, or remyelinating, the bare axons with myelin in response to injuries or diseases. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows and artist’s representation of an oligodendrocyte. Credit Holly Fischer.

Oligodendrocytes are formed by a type of stem cell in the brain called oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), and are responsible for re-wrapping, or remyelinating, the bare axons with myelin in response to injuries or diseases. This image is for illustrative purposes only and shows and artist’s representation of an oligodendrocyte. Credit Holly Fischer.

Like conducting an errant orchestra to play together, researchers are guiding processes that go awry in multiple sclerosis to repair themselves.

For the first time, scientists have discovered the exact mechanism rabies uses to efficiently enter the central nervous system, where it erupts in a toxic explosion of symptoms.

Neurons in human skin perform advanced calculations, previously believed that only the brain could perform.

Brain scans of college students have shed light on why people learn more effectively when their curiosity is piqued than when they are bored stiff. Researchers in the US found evidence that curiosity ramped up the activity of a brain chemical called dopamine, which in turn seemed to strengthen people’s memories.Students who took part in the study were better at remembering answers to trivia questions when they were curious, but their memories also improved for unrelated information they were shown at the same time.The findings suggest that while grades may have their place in motivating students, stimulating their natural curiosity could help them even more.

Researchers have discovered that T-cells – a type of white blood cell that learns to recognize and attack microbial pathogens – are activated by a pain receptor.

Quantitative tools dissect how two genes mutated in early-onset Parkinson’s disease collaborate in flagging damaged mitochondria.

A new study suggests a neural link between curiosity, motivation, and memory.

In a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, scientists uncovered a new pathway by which the brain uses an unusual steroid to control blood pressure. The study also suggests new approaches for treating high blood pressure and heart failure

Research using state-of-the-art eye-tracking technology has found that people suffering from chronic pain pay more frequent and longer attention to pain-related words than individuals who are pain-free.

The traditional view is that learning is based on the strengthening or weakening of the contacts between the nerve cells in the brain. However, this has been challenged by new research findings from Lund University in Sweden. These indicate that there is also a third mechanism – a kind of clock function that gives individual nerve cells the ability to time their reactions.

And finally this week, how your brain decides who to make friends with when you start university.


Addiction: What The Mind Hungers For

Psychiatrist Nora Volkow, chemist Kim Janda, and neuroscientists Eric Nestler and Amir Levine explain the latest thinking in the science of addiction.


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