Filmed during Mind & Life Institute’s “Mind and Life XXV: Contemplative Practice and Health: Laboratory Findings and Real World Challenges” on October 20, 2012.

Session Two – Laboratory Research

The Brain on Stress: Importance of the Social Environment for Brain and Body Health
SPEAKER: Bruce S. McEwen

The brain is the central organ of stress and adaptation to stress because it perceives and determines what is threatening, as well as the behavioral and physiological responses to the stressor by the active process of adaptation. Reflecting how each person’s life history contributes to their well-being, the adult, as well as developing brain, possesses a remarkable ability to show structural and functional plasticity in response to stressful and other experiences, including neuronal replacement, dendritic remodeling, and synapse turnover. Acute and chronic stress cause an imbalance of neural circuitry subserving memory, decision making, anxiety and mood that can increase or decrease expression of those behaviors and behavioral states. In the short term, such as for increased vigilance in a threatening environment, these changes may be adaptive; but, if the danger passes and the behavioral and systemic stress states persist along with the changes in neural circuitry, such maladaptation may need intervention. This is where mindfulness and meditation fit in and examples will be given of human brain imaging studies in which such interventions change brain structure and function in parallel with decreased disease symptoms. While disease prevention is most important, the plasticity of the brain gives hope for therapies of disorders that take into consideration brain-body interactions and the important ability of the brain to change itself. A model will be presented in which pharmaceutical agents or other interventions that facilitate brain plasticity can be combined with targeted behavioral interventions to promote such brain and body plasticity.

MODERATOR: Al Kaszniak

INTERPRETER: Thupten Jinpa

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Richard J. Davidson
Clifford Saron
Matthieu Ricard


Bruce McEwen, PhD

The Rockefeller University

Alfred Kaszniak, PhD

The University of Arizona


Thupten Jinpa, PhD

Compassion Institute

Board Chair

Mind & Life Connections