Posted on Apr 11, 2012, 6 a.m.
Long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification – "folding" of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster.
A number of previous studies have suggested that meditating for years strengthens the connections between brain cells. Eileen Luders, from the University of California/Los Angeles (UCLA; California, USA), and colleagues have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification ("folding" of the cortex, which may allow the brain to process information faster) than people who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain's neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes. The team took MRI scans of 50 meditators, 28 men and 22 women, and compared them to 50 control subjects matched for age, handedness and sex. The scans for the controls were obtained from an existing MRI database, while the meditators were recruited from various meditation venues. The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types — Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more. The researchers applied a well-established and automated whole-brain approach to measure cortical gyrification at thousands of points across the surface of the brain. Richards found pronounced group differences (heightened levels of gyrification in active meditation practitioners) across a wide swatch of the cortex, including the left precentral gyrus, the left and right anterior dorsal insula, the right fusiform gyrus and the right cuneus. Interestingly, a positive correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of insular gyrification was observed, from which the study authors posit that: “increased insular gyrification may reflect an integration of autonomic, affective, and cognitive processes.”
Eileen Luders, Florian Kurth, Emeran A. Mayer, Arthur W. Toga, Katherine L. Narr, Christian Gaser. “The Unique Brain Anatomy of Meditation Practitioners: Alterations in Cortical Gyrification.” Front. Hum. Neurosci., 29 Feb 2012.