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Mindfulness and neuroscience take to the airwaves

Dr Britta Biedermann, Lecturer School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, recently spoke on Radio National’s All in the Mind program about mindfulness meditation and neuroscience.

Dr Biedermann joined colleagues from Curtin, Macquarie and Chemnitz universities, and the Sydney Zen Centre, to discuss a meditation retreat with a scientific purpose. The retreat was held at the Zen Centre’s dedicated space, Kodoji, or Temple of the Ancient Ground, in March to facilitate a conversation between long-term meditators, psychologists and neuroscientists.

The retreat facilitated a conversation between long-term meditators, psychologists and neuroscientists.
The retreat facilitated a conversation between long-term meditators, psychologists and neuroscientists (photo supplied by Diego Oliverio).

“The idea was to bring long term meditators together and people who are researching certain parts of cognition but also interested in meditation, and learn from each other’s perspectives. So the scientific perspective but also the meditative perspective,” Dr Biedermann told All in the Mind.

“And everyone who was interested in coming to this weekend shared the one aspect and that was curiosity, because you need both to pursue a committed meditation practice; curiosity and inquiry. And the same drives the scientist. So the idea was to come together, and meditators could ask scientists what they would like to have researched, and scientists ask the meditators if they would find it interesting perhaps to study certain aspects because there is no theory of meditation, so we would need help there from long term meditators who have this introspection.”

The retreat was held at the Zen Centre’s dedicated space, Kodoji, or Temple of the Ancient Ground
The retreat was held at the Zen Centre’s dedicated space, Kodoji, or Temple of the Ancient Ground (photograph supplied by Gillian Coote).

The All in the Mind program was the result of Dr Biedermann’s ongoing research into the potential clinical benefits of meditation. In 2015, Dr Biedermann joined Curtin from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University, where she led an interdisciplinary team on the effects of meditation on auditory attention. The research was supported by a Macquarie Research Development grant.

The research team observed larger brain responses to sounds for long-term meditators during meditation and non-meditation tasks compared to novice meditators no matter if they meditated or not. Novice meditators, in turn, showed a clear difference in brain responses across both conditions, with the puzzling effect that their brain responses reduced during meditation. Biedermann and her team are currently disentangling if the difference might stem from habituation to sounds or from a cognitive overload.

Meditators and scientists shared ideas and knowledge.
Meditators and scientists shared ideas and knowledge at the retreat (photograph supplied by Gillian Coote).

Dr Biedermann has been awarded a start-up grant to expand upon her research with the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology’s Associate Professor Anne Whitworth, Dr Nigel Chen and Honours student, Rosemary Croasdale. The research team is looking at the potential benefits of meditation on auditory attention for an impaired system. Researchers are currently conducting background assessments and baseline testing with a small group of people with aphasia at the Curtin Speech Clinic, and the eight week meditation training will commence at the end of June 2016.

The research team will continue to collaborate with researchers from Macquarie and Chemnitz universities.

Dr Biedermann’s interview with Radio National is available online.