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Meditation May Help Brain Tune Out Distractions

Study Helps Explain Why Meditation Improves Concentration
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More Benefits of Meditation continued...

"The finding sheds light not just on meditation's effect on the brain but on some basic brain operations that may have implications beyond meditation," says Catherine Kerr, PhD, director of translational neuroscience, contemplative studies initiative, Brown University. She has studied the effects of meditation on brain wave activity.

Kerr says the brain has two networks, the attentional network and the default network. The attentional network is usually focused on something external, such as a manual task. The default network is involved in internal chatter and daydreaming.

Usually these networks work exclusively of each other. When one is on, the other shuts down, Kerr says.

"But meditators are using this default network in unusual and novel ways," Kerr tells WebMD. "People who meditate don't get lost in mindless negative chatter. Meditation protects you from repetitive negative thinking, which puts you at risk for depression."

Kerr says meditation may work like a spotlight to bring the mind's attention away from internal distractions and back to the task at hand.

Sara Lazar, PhD, associate scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, says the study is also interesting because it distinguishes meditation from rest.

Lazar, who has studied meditation's effect on brain structure, says the increased brain connectivity found in experienced meditators in this study is consistent with the structural changes she has documented.

Lazar and Kerr say more research is needed to determine if meditation may be beneficial for those at risk for mental illnesses or with early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

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