[Buddha-l] Meditation changes the brain structure

S. A. Feite sfeite at roadrunner.com
Thu Jan 27 13:13:45 MST 2011

On Jan 27, 2011, at 12:44 PM, Macleod, Nik wrote:

> Seems that sustained application to all manner of things
> can bring about long term changes in brain structure -
> witness the changes effected in London cabbies by
> acquisition of 'the knowledge':

As neuroscientists say "neurons that fire together, wire together."

Interestingly also, Buddhist meditation helps the amygdala get  
*smaller*. "Amygdalas are responsible for fear and other "primitive"  
emotions." Large amydalas are also connected to primitive political  
idealogies like conservatism.

"Political opinions are considered choices, and in Western  
democracies the right to choose one's opinions -- freedom of  
conscience -- is considered sacrosanct.

But recent studies suggest that our brains and genes may be a major  
determining factor in the views we hold.

A study at University College London in the UK has found that  
conservatives' brains have larger amygdalas than the brains of  
liberals. Amygdalas are responsible for fear and other "primitive"  
emotions. At the same time, conservatives' brains were also found to  
have a smaller anterior cingulate -- the part of the brain  
responsible for courage and optimism.

If the study is confirmed, it could give us the first medical  
explanation for why conservatives tend to be more receptive to  
threats of terrorism, for example, than liberals. And it may help to  
explain why conservatives like to plan based on the worst-case  
scenario, while liberals tend towards rosier outlooks.

"It is very significant because it does suggest there is something  
about political attitudes that are either encoded in our brain  
structure through our experience or that our brain structure in some  
way determines or results in our political attitudes," Geraint Rees,  
the neurologist who carried out the study, told the media.

Rees, who heads up UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, was  
originally asked half-jokingly to study the differences between  
liberal and conservative brains for an episode of BBC 4's Today show  
that was hosted by actor Colin Firth. But, after studying 90 UCL  
students and two British parliamentarians, the neurologist was  
shocked to discover a clear correlation between the size of certain  
brain parts and political views.

He cautions that, because the study was carried out only on adults,  
there is no way to tell what came first -- the brain differences or  
the political opinions.

But evidence is beginning to accumulate that figuring out a person's  
political proclivities may soon be as simple as a brain scan -- or a  
DNA test.

In a study published in October, researchers at Harvard and UC-San  
Diego found that a variant of the DRD4 gene predisposes people to  
being liberal, but only if they had active social lives as  
adolescents. The "liberal gene" has also been linked to a desire to  
try new things, and other "personality traits related to political  

For his part, actor Colin Firth, who hosted the BBC show that  
revealed the results of the brain scans, has said he wants to see  
brain scans on politicians to find out if they are telling the truth  
about what they believe.

Questioning the "liberal" credentials of the head of Britain's  
Liberal Democratic party, Nick Clegg, Firth said: "I think we should  
have him scanned.""


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