February 2, 2011

Brain Waves and Meditation

From: ScienceDaily.com

Forget about crystals and candles, and about sitting and breathing in awkward ways. Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.

“Given the popularity and effectiveness of meditation as a means of alleviating stress and maintaining good health, there is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how it affects brain function,” says Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, Australia. Lagopoulos is the principal investigator of a joint study between his university and researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on changes in electrical brain activity during nondirective meditation.

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December 15, 2010

Vital Signs; Regimes: Meditation, for the Mind and the Heart

altered states,meditation — alice @ 12:52 pm

From: NYTimes.com. Could the mental relaxation produced by transcendental meditation have physiological benefits? A study presented last week at the American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla., suggests that it may, at least in the case of people with established coronary artery disease.

Researchers followed about 200 high-risk patients for an average of five years. Among the 100 who meditated, there were 20 heart attacks, strokes and deaths; in the comparison group, there were 32. The meditators tended to remain disease-free longer and also reduced their systolic blood pressure.

”We found reduced blood pressure that was significant — that was probably one important mediator,” said Dr. Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, a research institute based at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, who presented the findings.

Click here for entire article

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November 5, 2010

6 More Reasons to Meditate

From: Psychology Today

Why meditate? Outside of religious contexts, the most common reason is stress management. But as these latest research findings demonstrate, meditation is much more than just a relaxation technique. Here are a half-dozen more good reasons to take up meditation.

To enhance concentration
Meditation has an undeserved reputation for being esoteric and difficult to learn. In truth, it’s really nothing more than the practice of focusing the mind intently on a particular thing or activity. It seems logical that regular meditation would hone a person’s powers of concentration, and a recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience found just that. In the study, three months of intensive meditation training led to improvements in attentional stability – the ability to sustain attention without frequent lapses.

Read the entire article

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November 3, 2010

Charlie Rose: The Brain Series

The Charlie Rose Brain Series consists of interviews with some of the most knowledgeable scientists and researchers studying the human brain, including Drs. Eric Kandel and Oliver Sacks. Each monthly episode examines different subjects of the brain, including perception, social interaction, aging and creativity.

For more information, please check the Charlie Rose Brain Series website.

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October 28, 2010

The Vegetative State and the Science of Consciousness

Article in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

N. Shea, T. Bayne

Abstract

Consciousness in experimental subjects is typically inferred from reports and other forms of voluntary behaviour. A wealth of everyday experience confirms that healthy subjects do not ordinarily behave in these ways unless they are conscious. Investigation of consciousness in vegetative state patients has been based on the search for neural evidence that such broad functional capacities are preserved in some vegetative state patients. We call this the standard approach. To date, the results of the standard approach have suggested that some vegetative state patients might indeed be conscious, although they fall short of being demonstrative. The fact that some vegetative state patients show evidence of consciousness according to the standard approach is remarkable, for the standard approach to consciousness is rather conservative, and leaves open the pressing question of how to ascertain whether patients who fail such tests are conscious or not. We argue for a cluster-based ‘natural kind’ methodology that is adequate to that task, both as a replacement for the approach that currently informs research into the presence or absence of consciousness in vegetative state patients and as a methodology for the science of consciousness more generally.

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October 27, 2010

Hypnosis Leads to Heightened Brain Waves and Levels of Consciousness

From: Natural News

Many people are wary of hypnosis because they are not educated on the topic. Hypnosis is a natural state and many people reach this state of consciousness every day without even realizing it. When you drive a car, you are in a light state of hypnosis. You are in control, you have an increased ability to concentrate, and you are operating on autopilot without really realizing it. A great deal of research has been conducted on the hypnotic state and various states of consciousness.

Your brain has four different brain wave states: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. While you are reading this article, you are in the state of beta. You are alert and able to concentrate on this article. The beta state is normal wakening state. Alpha state is a relaxed state. You are able to access creativity and visualization. Theta state is a deeper state of relaxation; this is a common state of hypnosis and meditation. Theta allows you to access memories. You experience theta as you fall asleep and wake up every day. Lastly is delta, which occurs while sleeping. Delta allows your body to heal. You are able to access your subconscious mind during alpha, theta, and delta states and can also reach various depths of hypnosis (Tools for Wellness).

Read the entire article

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October 22, 2010

What research paradigms have cognitive psychologists used to study “False memory,” and what are the implications of these choices?

K. Pezdek, S. Lam
Article in Consciousness and Cognition

Abstract
This research examines the methodologies employed by cognitive psychologists to study “false memory“, and assesses if these methodologies are likely to facilitate scientific progress or perhaps constrain the conclusions reached. A PsycINFO search of the empirical publications in cognitive psychology was conducted through January, 2004, using the subject heading, “false memory.” The search produced 198 articles. Although there is an apparent false memory research bandwagon in cognitive psychology, with increasing numbers of studies published on this topic over the past decade, few researchers (only 13.1% of the articles) have studied false memory as the term was originally intended—to specifically refer to planting memory for an entirely new event that was never experienced in an individual’s lifetime. Cognitive psychologists interested in conducting research relevant to assessing the authenticity of memories for child sexual abuse should consider the generalizability of their research to the planting of entirely new events in memory.

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January 30, 2008

God on the brain

From BBC (and read exciting transcript): Rudi Affolter and Gwen Tighe have both experienced strong religious visions. He is an atheist; she a Christian. He thought he had died; she thought she had given birth to Jesus. Both have temporal lobe epilepsy.

Like other forms of epilepsy, the condition causes fitting but it is also associated with religious hallucinations. Research into why people like Rudi and Gwen saw what they did has opened up a whole field of brain science: neurotheology.

The connection between the temporal lobes of the brain and religious feeling has led one Canadian scientist to try stimulating them. (They are near your ears.) 80% of Dr Michael Persinger’s experimental subjects report that an artificial magnetic field focused on those brain areas gives them a feeling of ‘not being alone’. Some of them describe it as a religious sensation.

His work raises the prospect that we are programmed to believe in god, that faith is a mental ability humans have developed or been given. And temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) could help unlock the mystery.

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December 11, 2007

The trivial function of sleep

Rest in poikilothermic animals is an adaptation of the organism to adjust to the geophysical cycles, a doubtless valuable function for all animals. In this review, we argue that the function of sleep could be trivial for mammals and birds because sleep does not provide additional advantages over simple rest. This conclusion can be reached by using the null hypothesis and parsimony arguments.

First, we develop some theoretical and empirical considerations supporting the absence of specific effects after sleep deprivation. Then, we question the adaptive value of sleep traits by using non-coding DNA as a metaphor that shows that the complexity in the design is not a definitive proof of adaptation.

We then propose that few, if any, phenotypic selectable traits do exist in sleep. Instead, the selection of efficient waking has been the major determinant of the most significant aspects in sleep structure. In addition, we suggest that the regulation of sleep is only a mechanism to enforce rest, a state that was challenged after the development of homeothermy.

As a general conclusion, there is no direct answer to the problem of why we sleep; only an explanation of why such a complex set of mechanisms is used to perform what seems to be a simple function. This explanation should be reached by following the evolution of wakefulness rather than that of sleep. Sleep could have additional functions secondarily added to the trivial one, although, in this case, the necessity and sufficiency of these sleep functions should be demonstrated.

The trivial function of sleep. R.V. Rial, Maria C. Nicolau, Antoni Gamundi, Mourad Akaarir, Sara Aparicio, Celia Garau, Silvia Tejada, Catalina Roca, Lluis Gene, David Moranta, Susana Esteban, 2007. Sleep Medicine Reviews 11(4):311-325.

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October 31, 2007

Psychic studies may be influenced by suggestion:

altered states,introspection,perception — thomasr @ 4:26 am

From Mind hacks: The BPS Research Digest has discussed a recent study that analysed recordings of parapsychology experiments and has found that some of the positive findings may be due to experimenters unconsciously prompting the participants as they gave their answers.The experiments used the Ganzfeld technique where one participant has diffuse white light and auditory noise played to them, effectively blocking the key senses, while another tries to ‘send’ images to them through mental projection.

Afterwards, the ‘receiver’ tells the experimenter what images came to mind and the research team see if it matches what the ‘sender’ was trying to transmit.

Taken as a whole, these sorts of experiments show a weak but positive evidence for extra-sensory perception (ESP), but it’s not clear whether this isn’t just due to a tendency for some negative trials not being reported.

In this new study, psychologist Robin Woofit analysed the tapes of Ganzfeld experiments from the mid-1990s and found that experimenters were more likely to respond decisively to correct responses but give subtle cues (such as saying ‘mm hm’) to give more information when the response wasn’t initially accurate.

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October 18, 2007

Dream content: Individual and generic aspects

Dream reports were collected from normal subjects in an effort to determine the degree to which dream reports can be used to identify individual dreamers. Judges were asked to group the reports by their authors. The judges scored the reports correctly at chance levels. This finding indicated that dreams may be at least as much like each other as they are the signature of individual dreamers. Our results suggest that dream reports cannot be used to identify the individuals who produced them when identifiers like names and gender of friends and family members are removed from the dream report. In addition to using dreams to learn about an individual, we must look at dreams as telling us about important common or generic aspects of human consciousness.next term

Allan Hobson and David Kahn in press article in Consciousness & Cognition

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Feeling Sleepy Is All In Your Genes

altered states,sleep — thomasr @ 5:35 pm

sleepy.jpegGenes responsible for our 24 hour body clock influence not only the timing of sleep, but also appear to be central to the actual restorative process of sleep, according to research published in BMC Neuroscience. The study identified changes in the brain that lead to the increased desire and need for sleep during time spent awake.

“We still do not know why we benefit from sleep, or why we feel tired when we are ‘lacking’ sleep, but it seems likely that sleep serves some basic biological function for the brain such as energy restoration for brain cells or memory consolidation.” Explains Dr Bruce O’Hara of the University of Kentucky, one of the neuroscientists who conducted the research. “We have found that clock gene expression in the brain is highly correlated to the build-up of sleep debt, while previous findings have linked these genes to energy metabolism. Together, this supports the idea that one function of sleep is related to energy metabolism.”

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Dreaming: New issue

altered states,dreaming,journal — thomasr @ 3:43 am

A new issue of Dreaming is out, covering topics such as dreaming and physical health, insomnia and dream content, and personality types.

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September 3, 2007

Birth and sleep content

altered states,development,dreaming — thomasr @ 3:33 am

pregnant.jpegThe conception and birth of a child are emotional events that influence the dreams of most new mothers. In a surprisingly high number of cases, this influence reflects negative aspects of maternal responsibility, depicting the new infant in dreamed situations of danger and provoking anxiety in the mother that often spills over into wakefulness. Furthermore, these kinds of dreams are also accompanied by complex behaviors by new moms such as motor activity, speaking and expressing emotion, according to a study published in the September 1 issue of the journal SLEEP.

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August 2, 2007

Neurology: An awakening

thalamus.jpegNeuroscientists and engineers are developing ways to help patients overcome paralysis and stroke. But what about mental function itself? Can medical intervention restore consciousness?

Nature runs a story on thalamic stimulation after severe stroke. Could this method be applied to help patients in coma or vegetative state regain their mental life?

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July 5, 2007

New issue: Dreaming

altered states,dreaming,journal — thomasr @ 3:57 am

A new issue of Dreaming is out, including articles on emotion, culture, and the self. Here we bring the abstracts

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June 15, 2007

Learning to pay attention

EEG,altered states,attention — thomasr @ 3:20 am

attention_plos.jpgBy Rachel Jones

Our sensory system is constantly bombarded with inputs, but owing to the brain’s finite processing power, we are forced to pay attention to only a tiny proportion of these inputs at any given time. In a new study, Richard Davidson and colleagues report [in PLoS Biology] that intensive training in meditation can alter the way in which the brain allocates attentional resources to important stimuli, allowing people to improve their performance on a demanding visual task.

In the “attentional blink” task, volunteers were asked to identify two “target” stimuli—for example, two particular numbers—in a stream of rapidly presented “non-target” stimuli—for example, letters—which are irrelevant to the task. When the first target number appears on the screen, it captures the attention of the subject, and this can prevent the person from spotting the second target if it appears within around half a second of the first (the attentional blink). It is as if the brain is so busy processing the first target that it can’t also process the second, and therefore the second target goes unnoticed. However, the attentional blink does not represent a structural processing bottleneck. Most subjects are able to spot the second target on at least a small proportion of trials. Since this task gauges the ability of subjects to allocate cognitive resources efficiently when multiple stimuli compete for attention, it is perfectly suited for investigations of the effects of mental training on attention.

Read full story at PLoS Biology

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May 24, 2007

Visual hallucinations? Draw it!

epilepsy_brain.jpgVisual (and other non-visual) hallucinations sometimes occur during epileptic seizures. A relatively straightforward but little used method to describe these experiences is to ask the sufferer to draw the hallucinations — even as they occur.

According to G.D. Schott, in an article in the latest issue of Brain, such descriptions not only not only serve as tools to understand the sufferer and symptoms; they can also be used for differential diagnosis. 

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May 22, 2007

Resting states in unconscious monkeys

Nature has an interesting report from Marc Raichle‘s laboratory that studies the resting states in monkeys. This study not only demonstrates that resting states occur in non-human primates, but that it is possible to find such activity during unconscious states.

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May 21, 2007

Who’s superstitious?

altered states,naturalism — thomasr @ 3:28 am

superstition.jpgWhat makes some people supersticious, or believe in the paranormal? In the latest issue of the Journal of Research in Personality, researchers Marjaana Lindeman and Kia Aarnio from Helsinki, Finland, first set out by conceptually distinguishing between the concepts of superstition, magical beliefs and paranormal beliefs. All concepts are commonly identified as “a confusion of core knowledge about physical, psychological, and biological phenomena”. Then, by applying a self-report questionnaire, they show that superstitious individuals accepted more violations of core ontological distinctions, and that “ontological confusions discriminated believers from skeptics better than intuitive thinking, analytical thinking, or emotional instability”. The report is available as a preprint here (PDF).

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