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Meditation Adapts the Brain to Respond to Better Feedback

Summary: Researchers report the brains of those who practice meditation are less affected by negative feedback than those who do not meditate. The study reports this could be due to altered dopamine levels caused by the act of meditation.

Source: University of Surrey.

In a new study in the Journal of Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience researchers from the University of Surrey have discovered a link between meditation and how individuals respond to feedback.

Participants in the study, a mixture of experienced, novice and non-meditators, were trained to select images associated with a reward. Each pair of images had varying probabilities of a reward e.g. images that result in a reward 80 per cent of the time versus those that result in a reward 20 per cent of the time. Participants eventually learnt to select the pairing with the higher outcome.

Researchers found that participants who meditated were more successful in selecting high-probability pairings indicating a tendency to learn from positive outcomes, compared to non – meditators who learned the pattern via low-probability pairings suggesting a tendency to learn from negative outcomes.

During the study participants were connected to an EEG, a non-invasive method that records electrical patterns in the brain. Results from the EEG found that while all three groups responded similarly to positive feedback, the neurological response to negative feedback was highest in the non-meditation group, followed by the novice group and then by the experienced meditation group. These results indicate that the brains of meditators are less affected by negative feedback, and that this may be a result of altered dopamine levels caused by meditation.

Previous studies in this field on patients with Parkinson’s disease, where dopamine levels are severely reduced, have shown that the compound affects how people respond to feedback, indicating that dopamine is integral to how we learn and process information. The present study suggests that meditation may present a way to affect levels of dopamine in the brain and the way humans deal with positive and negative feedback.

a woman meditating

Researchers found that participants who meditated were more successful in selecting high-probability pairings indicating a tendency to learn from positive outcomes, compared to non – meditators who learned the pattern via low-probability pairings suggesting a tendency to learn from negative outcomes. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

Paul Knytl, lead author and PhD candidate in psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “Humans have been meditating for over 2000 years, but the neural mechanisms of this practice are still relatively unknown. These findings demonstrate that, on a deep level, meditators respond to feedback in a more even-handed way than non-meditators, which may help to explain some of the psychological benefits they experience from the practice.”

Bertram Opitz, Professor in Neuroimaging and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Surrey, said: “Meditation is a powerful tool for the body and the mind; it can reduce stress and improve immune function. What we have found is that it can also impact on how we receive feedback, i.e. if we quickly learn from our mistakes or if we need to keep making them before we find the right answer.

“If it is the latter this can impact how individuals perform in the workplace or classroom. Such individuals may benefit from meditation to increase their productivity or prevent them from falling behind in their studies.”

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Natasha Meredith – University of Surrey
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research for “Meditation experience predicts negative reinforcement learning and is associated with attenuated FRN amplitude” by Paul Knytl and Bertram Opitz in Journal of Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience. Published November 16 2018.
doi:10.3758/s13415-018-00665-0

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
University of Surrey”Meditation Adapts the Brain to Respond to Better Feedback.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 11 December 2018.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/meditiation-feedback-10324/>.
University of Surrey(2018, December 11). Meditation Adapts the Brain to Respond to Better Feedback. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved December 11, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/meditiation-feedback-10324/
University of Surrey”Meditation Adapts the Brain to Respond to Better Feedback.” http://neurosciencenews.com/meditiation-feedback-10324/ (accessed December 11, 2018).

Abstract

Meditation experience predicts negative reinforcement learning and is associated with attenuated FRN amplitude

Focused attention meditation (FAM) practices are cognitive control exercises where meditators learn to maintain focus and attention in the face of distracting stimuli. Previous studies have shown that FAM is both activating and causing plastic changes to the mesolimbic dopamine system and some of its target structures, particularly the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and striatum. Feedback-based learning also depends on these systems and is known to be modulated by tonic dopamine levels. Capitalizing on previous findings that FAM practices seem to cause dopamine release, the present study shows that FAM experience predicts learning from negative feedback on a probabilistic selection task. Furthermore, meditators exhibited attenuated feedback-related negativity (FRN) as compared with nonmeditators and this effect scales with meditation experience. Given that reinforcement learning and FRN are modulated by dopamine levels, a possible explanation for our findings is that FAM practice causes persistent increases in tonic dopamine levels which scale with amount of practice, thus altering feedback processing.

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