Practices like physical exercise, certain forms of psychological counseling and meditation can all change brains for the better, and these changes can be measured with the tools of modern neuroscience, according to a review article now online at Nature Neuroscience.
The study reflects a major transition in the focus of neuroscience from disease to well being, says first author Richard Davidson, professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The brain is constantly changing in response to environmental factors, he says, and the article "reflects one of the first efforts to apply this conceptual framework to techniques to enhance qualities that we have not thought of as skills, like well-being. Modern neuroscience research leads to the inevitable conclusion that we can actually enhance well-being by training that induces neuroplastic changes in the brain
"Neuroplastic" changes affect the number, function and interconnections of cells in the brain, usually due to external factors.
Although the positive practices reviewed in the article were not designed using the tools and theories of modern neuroscience, "these are practices which cultivate new connections in the brain and enhance the function of neural networks that support aspects of pro-social behavior, including empathy, altruism, kindness," says Davidson, who directs the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at UW-Madison.