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Meditation helps 'tune down' distractions

BOSTON, April 24 (UPI) -- Meditation's impact on pain and memory may come from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say the modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among those who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program compared with the control group.

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Study co-lead author Catherine Kerr of the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School says the brain cells use particular frequencies or waves to regulate the flow of information in much the same way radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies.

One frequency -- the alpha rhythm -- is particularly active in the cells that process touch, sight and sound in the brain's outmost layer -- the cortex -- where it helps to suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations.

"Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall," Kerr says in a statement. "Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts."

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The finding was published in the journal Brain Research Bulletin.

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