Science China Life Sciences

, Volume 54, Issue 10, pp 961–965

Meditation promotes insightful problem-solving by keeping people in a mindful and alert conscious state

Open AccessResearch Papers

DOI: 10.1007/s11427-011-4233-3

Cite this article as:
Ren, J., Huang, Z., Luo, J. et al. Sci. China Life Sci. (2011) 54: 961. doi:10.1007/s11427-011-4233-3


Although previous studies have shown that sleep can inspire insight, it is still unclear whether meditation can promote insight. Meditation differs from other types of passive rest such as relaxation and sleep because it requires full consciousness and mindfulness of targets such as one’s breathing. Forty-eight university students without meditation experience were recruited to learn a simple meditation technique. They were given a list of 10 insight problems to solve (the pre-test session). In this study, we focused on the unsolved problems and examined if they could be successfully solved after a 20 min rest interval with or without meditation. Results showed that relative to the control group that listened to Chinese or English words and made a language judgment, the groups who learned meditation successfully solved significantly more failed problems from the pre-test session, providing direct evidence for the role of meditation in promoting insight. Further analysis showed that maintaining a mindful and alert state during meditation (raising a hand to report every 10 deep breaths compared to every 100 deep breaths) resulted in more insight regarding the failed items from the pre-test session. This implies that it was watchfulness in meditation, rather than relaxation, that actually contributed to insight. Consistently, in the meditation session or control task, the percentage of alpha waves-a brain index of mental relaxation-was negatively correlated with insight. These results suggest a meditation-based insight-promoting mechanism different from that involved in passive rest such as relaxation and sleep.


meditationinsightproblem solving
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© The Author(s) 2011

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of EducationZhejiang Normal UniversityJinhuaChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Mental HealthChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Institute of SociologyChinese Academy of Social SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Department of Social SciencesHebei Medical UniversityShijiazhuangChina
  5. 5.Beijing Easy Monitor Technology Co., Ltd.BeijingChina