Researchers to investigate stress response in regular meditators

While most people are aware that meditation can help us to relax, a group of University of South Australia researchers hope to prove that a daily dose of meditation can do much more.

They have begun a research project investigating stress responses in people who meditate regularly compared to people who are long-term carers and who do not meditate.

Behavioural neuroscience researcher Dr Maarten Immink says ultimately the project aims to show that meditation reduces stress and that it can have physical as well as mental function benefits for people who live in higher stress situations.

“Previous research has already shown that meditation helps with attention, memory and decision making,” he says.

“The general notion of meditation is not to avoid stress but to learn to deal with the stress a little bit differently. So when stress is triggered, as it is in all of us, it’s about how we respond to that, whether it’s about breathing differently or thinking in a different way. We’re hoping to show that meditation can have impacts on physical health and mental function, by evaluating differences in stress biomarkers (cortisol) and in how people handle stressful challenges.”

Public health researcher Dr Shona Kelly says there is a lot of information about the mental strain faced by carers, however there is less information about how their physical health and mental function are affected.

“We do know that carers have impaired immunity, higher blood pressure and a greater risk of dying than non-carers of the same age and sex. What we don’t understand is the physiological processes that lead to this poorer health,” Dr Kelly says.

The researchers are looking for people to take part in the study, which is a multi-disciplinary research project in UniSA’s Division of Health Sciences. Also involved are Dr Chris Della Vedova and Dr John Hayball from the School of Pharmacy, research assistant Steph Kershaw, and Dr Stuart Cathcart from the University of Canberra Centre for Applied Psychological Research.

They need 40 participants who are regular meditators (have engaged in meditation practice five days a week for at least three years) and who are in good health. They also need 40 participants who have been carers for at least three years, who are generally in good health and who are not regular meditators.

Dr Kelly says all participants will be asked to collect samples of saliva at home using a provided kit. These will be compared with samples collected during a socially stressful challenge (public speaking) in a two-hour testing session at UniSA’s City East Campus.

“Saliva contains stress related chemicals which can be measured,” she says.

“We’re expecting to see the chemical cortisol will rise less and come down faster in the people who are regular meditators. We are also looking for stress biomarkers which can be incorporated into large health surveys where bringing people into the university is not practical.”

Anyone interested in being involved, or wanting more information, can contact Dr Kelly on (08) 8302 2901 or by email

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