Manipulating Consciousness

Scientists showed that they could alter brain activity of rats and either wake them up or put them in an unconscious state by changing the firing rates of neurons in the central thalamus, a region known to regulate arousal. The study, published in eLIFE, was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Our results suggest the central thalamus works like a radio dial that tunes the brain to different states of activity and arousal,” said Jin Hyung Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology, neurosurgery and bioengineering at Stanford University, and a senior author of the study.

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Mindfulness meditation

The findings, by scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, are the first to show that patterns of brain activity produced by mindfulness meditation differ from those produced by a placebo cream.

Contemplatives have long reported the benefits of mindfulness meditation on pain, and brain imaging technology has revealed more about the mechanisms involved. Whether the benefits stem from religious practices or mindfulness itself has remained unclear.

Meditation-related pain reduction is now a rapidly emerging field, but more specific experimental evidence has been needed to advance it.

Lead author Fadel Zaidan, PhD, and colleagues have previously noted the effect of expectation, distraction, attention, beliefs, placebo, hypnosis, stress, anxiety, mood and emotional state on pain. Enhanced cognitive and emotional control have been shown to help decrease pain; mindfulness could play a role.

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