Sarah Wang: GET SMART(ER)
Concentrate, and Relax
If you thought you'd have to spend all day with your nose in a book to get smart, think again. There's evidence that meditation does wonders for the thinker.
While studying the brain structure of people who practice Buddhist insight meditation regularly, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers found meditators have thicker brain matter in the area that deals with executive function, which refers to our ability to plan, think abstractly, understand rules and initiate appropriate responses. The study didn't look at whether those with thicker brain matter have higher-functioning brains, says lead study author Sara Lazar, but the team aims to find out.
In the meantime, Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, offers plenty of support for meditation. Davidson has long studied the impact of meditation on attention and concentration, and has found that "even relatively short-term meditation practice can substantially change certain aspects of attention and change the brain systems that underlie it."
Meditation can also help train people to regulate their emotions. Monks, it turns out, are masters of this, as Davidson found in a study. That inner calm "is extremely important for well-being and also very important for learning," he says. "If you are hyper-responsive to stress and to negative stimuli in your environment, it would interfere with your capacity to learn." Which in non-scientific terms means that getting all riled up every time your boss does that annoying thing with her teeth could be keeping you from your intellectual peak.
Meditation is good for executive dysfunction and ADD