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18 June 2003

Lighten up

Looking for a reason to take up meditation? A new American study has found that Buddhists really are more happy, calm and serene than people who don't meditate.

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Looking for a reason to take up meditation? A new American study has found that Buddhists really are more happy, calm and serene than people who don't meditate.

At least according to their brain scans.

Neuroscientists from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, used new scanning techniques to delve into the brains of Buddhists. What they discovered was that certain areas of their brains constantly light up, indicating positive emotions and good mood.

Buddhists really are happy people
Interestingly enough, the same results were achieved even when the Buddhists were not meditating. This led researcher, Professor Owen Flanagan, of Duke University in North Carolina, to hypothesise that those happy-looking, calm Buddhists in places like Dharamsala (the home to the Dalai Lama) in India, really are happy and serene people.

The brain scans of veteran Buddhist practitioners showed activity in their left prefrontal lobes. This area of the brain is associated with positive emotions, self-control and temperament.

Taming the fear factor
In a similar study, conducted by Dr Paul Ekman, from the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, researchers found a pattern that seemed to suggest that meditation and mindfulness can "tame" the amygdala – the area of the brain that controls fear memory.

Ekman's team discovered that, when compared to normal people, experienced Buddhists were less likely to be shocked, surprised or flustered and they were also less likely to get angry.

In a report in New Scientist magazine, Flanagan said that if the findings of both studies could be confirmed, it would constitute a discovery of great importance. Flanagan says that "The most reasonable hypothesis is that there is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek." (Health24)

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