Researchers investigate whether meditation can reduce pain and anxiety

  • Date

    Wed 22 Nov 17

Picture of thoughtful woman

Researchers are investigating whether negative thoughts can increase the level of physical pain an individual feels, and if so, whether meditation can help.

In a new study psychologists from the University of Essex are delving deeper into the Terror Management Theory which suggests the fear of death is so strong it affects everything we do, and religion, cultural values and beliefs are all coping mechanisms we have adopted to deal with our own mortality.

Dr Elia Valentini, who is leading the study, explained: “We want to test to what extent the theory is correct and, if it is, whether people who have cognitive and emotional tools, such as meditation, to deal with anxiety are able to counter-act the effects of negative thoughts.

“In our study we will be linking a psychological threat with a bodily threat and looking at their interaction on both subjective feeling and brain activity.”

Participants will be asked to think about death, either their own or that of a loved one, and will then be subjected to electric shocks generating a moderate sensation of pain. Their brain activity will be monitored through EEG (electroencephalography) and they will be asked to rate the magnitude of their pain.

The experiment will then be carried out on those who practice meditation to see if, through meditation, they are able to dampen the level of pain and reduce brain activity.

“The more we know about the way threat is processed in the brain, the easier it is for us to understand how to counteract it. Our findings will shed light on the potential for meditation to counteract the anxiety triggered by one of the most powerful motivators of human behaviour – the fear of death,” added Dr Valentini

The two-year study has been funded by Bial, a Portuguese pharmaceutical company.