Buddhist techniques still hold value in modern day neuroscience

Author:  Corbaley Dean

Date:  July 2007

Does talking about a problem actually make it easier to handle? Researchers at UCLA not only believe it, they can prove it. Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience, conducted experiments into a cognitive phenomenon called mindfulness in which a specific part of the brain in the frontal lobe lessens the effects of an emotional experience after it is consciously identified.


This region of the brain is called the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and is active when feelings are conceptualized into words. After showing emotionally charged pictures to subjects, the researchers noted an increase in activity of the subject's amygdala, a portion of the limbic system in the brain that controls emotions. These responses were shown to occur before the subjects were consciously aware of them. However, after the emotion was cognitively recognized, the activity in the amydala decreased. Although the effect is not great, it is noticeable.

Lieberman says that the region of the frontal lobe is heightened by self-consciousness and emotional control similar to Buddhist practice of mindfulness in which the individual has a higher level of self-awareness, reactions and movements relative to the outside world. For over 2500 years, people have practiced mindfulness to improve the quality of their lives. In fact, people who practice regularly have shown higher activity in their frontal cortex.

Lieberman's colleague, David Creswell, says that mindfulness has been helpful in relieving chronic pain conditions, skin diseases, and stress related health issues. Research into this region of the brain might help these treatments even further and has potential for other treatment alternatives. This combination of ancient practices and modern day neuroscience could potentially help treat anger management, alcoholism and gambling disorders in the future.

- By Dean Corbaley