August 17, 2018
Over the past two decades, meditation has become a topic of great interest to brain researchers, for its significant effects on mental health as much as how it sheds light on the internal experiences of cognition and consciousness. Psychologists and neuroscientists around the world continue to explore the workings of the mind through contemplative practices including meditation, in ever greater numbers. And increasingly, technologies used to study the brain have found their way out of the laboratory into the homes and workplaces of everyday meditation practitioners.
It’s for this reason that some meditation researchers have begun to evaluate the use of tools like Muse, which put the established research technology of EEG into a form factor that is now widely used – not just to measure the brain, but to produce real-time measures of brain state that can be used to facilitate learning through feedback.
This might seem, at first, a paradox: given how much technology seems to challenge individuals’ mental health and ability to relax, shouldn’t technology be something to avoid in contemplative practice?
The laboratory of Prof. Michela Balconi at the Catholic University of Milan sought to understand whether using technology, specifically Muse: the brain sensing headband, daily for several weeks, would show measurable differences when compared to a group using a simple relaxation exercise. Their results were published in a series of two papers in 2017 and 2018.
Note: You can find the original published papers from the Balconi Lab study HERE and HERE.
Members of Prof. Balconi’s lab studied 40 participants over four weeks. Half of the participants used Muse for meditation daily, and the other half (the control group) performed a daily deep breathing exercise while listening to recorded sounds of nature. At the outset, and at the end of weeks two and four, participants underwent high-density EEG and performed a series of cognitive tests, as well as measures of stress.
Prof. Balconi’s study revealed several interesting results:
- The group using Muse showed an improvement in response times in a complex reaction task – they got faster at a cognitive task.
- Participants using Muse showed changes in their resting brain states, similar to the changes seen in the brains of mindfulness meditators by other researchers, and suggesting an improved control of participants’ ability to relax.
- The participants in the Muse group showed brain plasticity changes indicating, according to the researchers “markers of neural efficiency and information-processing were significantly greater for [Muse] training than control participants.”
- Compared to the control group, the Muse group showed a significantly larger reduction in stress – a 16% reduction in perceived stress in just four weeks.
Taken together, the results of the Balconi Lab’s study show strong evidence that technology-assisted meditation, and more specifically the regular use of Muse, can have meaningful and significant effects in helping people acquire the skills and benefits of contemplative practice. Feedback has been well understood, since the early days of contemporary psychology research, to be a powerful mechanism in learning, and EEG feedback is well established as a tool. The results are clear: through regular use of Muse, participants in well-controlled studies show brain changes that suggest measurable improvements in brain health.
If you’re interested in learning more about the research Muse is involved in, please visit our research page HERE.