Using reason to meditate: initial findings about the effects of analytical meditation on brain and behavior

van Vugt, M., 4-Oct-2019.

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic

Analytical meditation is a contemplative practice in which practitioners use reasoning and reflection to come to a better understanding of a topic, mostly from Buddhist philosophy. Analytical meditation, accompanied by a vigorous form of debating, is the core practice in most Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. It is at this point unknown what the cognitive and affective mechanisms are that underlie monastic debate. In a cross-cultural interdisciplinary investigation we set out to study those.
We recorded EEG while 56 beginning and experienced monastics were engaged in a typical debate about a topic related to bodhicitta. These debates were rated by several experienced monastic observers to determine when the monastics were agreeing, disagreeing, and other significant events occurred. Apart from these electrophysiological studies, we also requested other groups of beginner and experienced monastics to fill out questionnaires related to emotional functioning and perform a series of cognitive tasks.
Using EEG recorded while two monastics were debating, we found that monastic debate is associated with similar increases in frontal midline theta as several other forms of contemplative practices, such as focused attention meditation. We also found increases in the synchrony between the two debaters in frontal channels at alpha frequency were found when they were agreeing, compared to when they were disagreeing. In a cross-sectional design, we found that more experienced monastics reported fewer difficulties in emotion regulation, better mood, and better performance on a logical reasoning task.
These findings are the first reports of how monastic debate affects emotion and cognition. Much more work is needed to build a strong theoretical framework to compare these contemplative practices to practices performed more commonly in the West. Yet, they provide an exciting example of how monastics and scientists can collaborate.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4-Oct-2019
EventLandelijk Mindfulness Symposium - Lindenbergh, Nijmegen, Netherlands
Duration: 4-Oct-2019 → …


ConferenceLandelijk Mindfulness Symposium
Period04/10/2019 → …
Internet address


Landelijk Mindfulness Symposium

04/10/2019 → …

Nijmegen, Netherlands

Event: Conference


  • mindfulness, monastic debate

ID: 98405500