Marmoset monkeys will meditate — for marshmallows
New Scientist magazine relates that scientists have trained marmoset monkeys to meditate. The study was designed to investigate whether the placebo effect is involved in neurofeedback training, where the electrical activity of the brains of epilepsy sufferers is recorded and displayed back to them, in order to encourage them to generate “helpful brainwaves.”
Since monkeys aren’t aware of the potential helpful effects of being hooked up to a neurofeedback display, they’re not susceptible to the placebo effect, where the expectation of improvement brings improvement about.
The researchers, at the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in Rijswijk in the Netherlands,
attached electrodes to the brains of marmoset monkeys to pick up electroencephalogram (EEG) signals from the brain. Rather than showing the monkeys the EEG signal, as might be done in humans, Philippens and Vanwersch simply gave them a marshmallow reward every time they tuned their brain activity to a certain frequency range – in this case, 12 to 16 hertz.
In human subjects, this frequency is associated with meditative states, where the mind is relaxed but focused state.
So, can monkeys meditate? Apparently, they can, according to the article.
“It’s like meditation,” says Philippens. “When you see the monkeys doing it, they look very restful but they have focus, like they are staring at something.”
Just like humans, monkeys vary in their aptitude for meditation. Two monkeys took only two training sessions to learn to put themselves into a meditative state, while the other two monkeys studied took four sessions to become blissed out.
Maybe “monkey mind” isn’t as unmeditative as we thought?