New Study Finds TM Boosts Brain Functioning and Helps Students with ADHD

A random-assignment controlled study published this month in Mind & Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry (Vol 2, No 1) found improved brain functioning and decreased symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, in students practicing the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. The paper, ADHD, Brain Functioning, and Transcendental Meditation Practice, is the most recent study demonstrating TM’s ability to help students with attention-related difficulties.

The study was conducted over a period of 6 months in an independent school for children with language-based learning disabilities in Washington, DC. The study showed improved brain functioning, increased brain processing, and improved language-based skills among ADHD students practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Neuroscientist Fred Travis, Ph.D., and other researchers performed electroencephalogram (EEG) tests to measure and record the electrical activity of students’ brains as they performed a demanding computer-based visual-motor task. Successful performance of the task required attention, focus, memory, and impulse control.

The study showed improved brain functioning, increased brain processing, and improved language-based skills among ADHD students practicing the meditation technique. In addition, students were administered a verbal fluency test. This test measured higher-order executive functions, including initiation, simultaneous processing, and systematic retrieval of knowledge. Performance of this task depends on several fundamental cognitive components, including vocabulary knowledge, spelling, and attention.

Experts say that EEG measurement can help to diagnose ADHD as the ratio of theta brain waves can be used to accurately identify students with ADHD from those without it.

Fred Travis, Ph.D.

“In normal individuals, theta activity in the brain during tasks suggests that the brain is blocking out irrelevant information so the person can focus on the task,” said Travis. “But in individuals with ADHD, the theta activity is even higher, suggesting that the brain is also blocking out relevant information.” And when beta activity, which is associated with focus, is lower than normal, Travis added, “it affects the ability to concentrate on task for extended periods of time.”

“Prior research shows ADHD children have slower brain development and a reduced ability to cope with stress,” said co-researcher William Stixrud, Ph.D., a prominent Silver Spring, Maryland, clinical neuropsychologist. “Virtually everyone finds it difficult to pay attention, organize themselves and get things done when they’re under stress,” he said. “Stress interferes with the ability to learn—it shuts down the brain. Functions such as attention, memory, organization, and integration are compromised.”

Why the TM Technique?

Sarina J. Grosswald, Ed.D.

“We chose the TM technique for this study because studies show that it increases brain function and reduces stress. We wanted to know if it would have a similar effect in the case of ADHD, and if it did, would that also improve the symptoms of ADHD,” said principal investigator Sarina J. Grosswald, Ed.D., a George Washington University-trained cognitive learning specialist.

Dr. Stixrud added, “Because stress significantly compromises attention and all of the key executive functions such as inhibition, working memory, organization, and mental flexibility, it made sense that a technique that can reduce a child’s level of stress should also improve his or her cognitive functioning.”

The Transcendental Meditation technique is an effortless, easy-to-learn practice, unique among categories of meditation. “TM does not require concentration, controlling the mind or disciplined focus—challenges for anyone with ADHD,” said Dr. Grosswald. “What’s significant about these new findings,” Grosswald said, “is that among children who have difficulty with focus and attention, we see the same results. The fact that these children are able to do TM, and do it easily, shows us that this technique may be particularly well-suited for children with ADHD.”

Previous research has found that during TM there is a unique experience of “restful alertness” in mind and body, an experience associated with higher metabolic activity in the frontal and parietal parts of the brain, indicating alertness, along with decreased metabolic activity in the thalamus, which is involved in regulating arousal, and hyperactivity. This restfully alert brain state becomes more present outside of meditation as a result of daily TM practice, allowing ADHD students to attend to tasks.

“While stimulant medication is very beneficial for some of my clients with ADHD,” adds Dr. Stixrud, “the number of children who receive great benefit from medicine with minimal side-effects is relatively small. The fact that TM appears to improve attention and executive functions, and significantly reduces stress with no negative side-effects, is clearly very promising.”

REFERENCE: PsychCentral, July 27, 2011
Here’s a video news report by ABC7 News in Washington, DC on the progress of the study during its first 3 months.