Does Buddhist Meditation Promote Rational Thinking?

Meditation Benefits | Practice Meditation To Think More RationallyIt’s true that meditation has many mental and physical benefits. Increased clarity, decreased stress and anxiety, and lower blood pressure are just some of the things that one can expect from practicing meditation. That said, can meditation help people to overcome interpersonal issues like jealousy? One recent study seems to indicate so.

Checkout this recent Miller McCune post from Michael Haederle on how Buddhist meditation promotes rational thinking. According to Haederle, researchers at Baylor Medical College in Houston used a well-known experiment called the Ultimatum Game to show how meditation affects a person’s ability to think rationally. Using an MRI to bring science into the picture, scientists found that when subjects who practiced meditation were met with an unfair situation, there responses were quite different than those who didn’t.

One person has a sum of money to split with another person. If the other person accepts the offer, they both walk away with cash in their pocket, but if he or she rejects the offer as too chintzy — which happens surprisingly often — neither receives anything.

The rational course is to accept any offer that is proposed, because getting something is better than nothing at all, but the Ultimatum Game suggests that for many people, emotion trumps reason. Being treated fairly is more important than coming out ahead financially.

Kirk’s subjects had $20 to split among themselves. When the offers were wildly asymmetrical (keeping $19 for oneself, while offering only $1), 72 percent of the controls refused the money, meaning both parties left empty-handed. But when the meditators played, only 46 percent rejected such blatantly unfair offers. More than half were willing to take whatever they were offered.

The test subjects played the game while lying inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, enabling the researchers to see which areas of their brains became active as they responded to various monetary offers. As in earlier experiments with the Ultimatum Game, the control subjects saw increased activity a brain structure called the anterior insula when they were confronted with an unfair offer — an area linked to the emotion of disgust.

But the meditators’ brains reacted quite differently, activating brain areas associated with interoception — the representation of the body’s internal state. In fact, the researchers found very little overlap in the two groups’ neural responses.

Read more from Haederle on the use of Buddhist meditation to promote rational thinking here.

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