Without superpowers or a power drill there are only a couple ways we can observe brain activity and most of them require large expensive equipment:
Luckily, with the help of Backyard Brains, you can make the equipment yourself! This summer, I’m going to be using such DIY equipment to do some electroencephalography (or EEG) experiments to study meditation!
This has proven a difficult subject to define, though. Aside from problems that arise from isolating meditation from its spiritual context and marketing it as a panacea, the problem with meditation in scientific research is that it is it vaguely defined. A scientific review in 2014 that examined 47 trials with 3500+ participants found only moderate evidence for reduced anxiety, depression, and pain. However, one study showed that long term meditators have increased grey matter in certain areas of the brain after just 8 weeks of meditation.
What exactly is going on (or even not going on) during meditation? What actions or thoughts can be considered meditation? How do you take a rich spiritual concept into a standardized framework for testing? Can my 11-year-old brother teach me how to play the trumpet over video chat? Will the art school student survive the neuroscience fellowship? (Is neuroscience really for everyone?) Stay tuned to find out!
This past winter I stumbled upon Backyard Brains at the New York City Toy Fair and was enamored by their focus on accessible, hands-on education (ie. what I went to art school in search of). I learned about their research fellowship, applied, crossed my non-science-major fingers, and here I am! My name is Maria, and I’m originally from a little cul de sac in Silicon Valley, which is probably why I think that scientific validation is important, but I do think that technology has the potential to be used for things other than financial gain (like sibling bonding over video chat). At the Rhode Island School of Design, I rollerblade, study industrial design, and run a Sunset Club that goes to immersive natural environments to promote mental health awareness and health. I’m excited to learn how to make intimidating topics like neuroscience more accessible and understand the mechanisms of meditation to apply them to wellness in the community.