term practitioners," Davidson says.
A different picture emerged, however, from looking only at the most experienced meditators with at least 40,000 hours of experience. "There was a brief increase in activity as they start meditating, and then it came down to baseline, as if they were able to concentrate in an effortless way," says Davidson.
Effortless concentration is described in classic meditation texts, adds Davison. "And we think this may be a neural reflection of that. These results illustrate one mechanism by which meditation may act in the brain."
While the subjects meditated inside the MRI, the researchers periodically blasted them with disturbing noises. Among the experienced meditators, the noise had less effect on the brain areas involved in emotion and decision-making than among novice meditators. Among meditators with more than 40,000 hours of lifetime practice, these areas were hardly affected at all.
"Most people, if they heard a baby screaming, would have some emotional response," Davidson says, but not the highly experienced meditators. "They do hear the sound, we can detect that in the auditory cortex, but they don't have the emotional reaction."
As Davidson notes, any comparison of average middle-aged Americans to people who have meditated daily for decades must try to associate the differences with meditation, and not lifestyle factors such as isolation or religious faith.
"This was a highly unusual group of people. Two-thirds of the experienced meditators were Tibetan monks, recruited with the help of the Dalai Lama, and they all had an extremely long history of formal practice."
For 15 years, Davidson has had a scientific relationship with the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, to investigate the effects of meditation.
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