This incredible study basically found a way to legally torture meditators!
As part of the study, long-term meditators were presented with a painful stimulus. Scientists created a device that was placed on the inside of the wrist and regulated the temperature of water inside the device. This allowed the scientists to deliver heat in a safe way in order to produce a burning sensation without actually injuring the participants.
Imagine having a water-filled plastic bag on your wrist that could instantaneously became very hot, but only long enough to give you the feeling that you were being burned without doing any lasting damage — yikes!
Participants in the study were presented with a bell to warn them that the pain was coming. When participants heard the bell, it meant that in 10 seconds they were going to get zapped by the painful stimulus, after which they got a period of rest.
To calibrate everyone’s pain levels and give them a sense of what to expect, all participants were given one demo in which they heard the bell, got zapped by the painful stimulus, and then had a rest period.
Then, the bell, painful stimulus, and rest period were given to both meditators and non-meditators while monitoring their brain activity. The scientists discovered that when the non-meditators got the cue bell warning them of the painful stimulus, their brains went nuts. All the pain circuits started to activate before the pain was even delivered.
When they anticipated the pain, their brains responded as though they were already in pain, even though they had only received the warning bell.
The scientists also discovered that in the period immediately after the pain stimulus, the pain circuits of non-meditators remained activated. In other words they acted like they were still in pain even though the burning sensation was over.
Long-term meditators, on the other hand, showed very little brain activity during the anticipation period and an acute response to the heat (when they were actually in pain). During the recovery period, the meditators' brains showed very little activity.
The meditators reported feeling distress and suffering primarily ONLY when they were experiencing the painful stimulus. Non-meditators, in contrast, reported suffering before, during, and after the painful stimulus.
This means that the meditators experienced less suffering. And they showed an ability to rapidly recover from adversity as compared to non-meditators.
All this goes to show that if you want to experience less suffering, greater happiness, and more gratitude, you may want to give meditation a try.