How ancient humans learned to meditate in order to deal with stress

Meditating at sunset
photo: Wellnes
Scientists have revealed that, unlike our Neanderthal predecessors, humans evolved the ability to meditate in order to cope with both past and future pressures.

Scientists have revealed that, unlike our Neanderthal predecessors, humans evolved the ability to meditate in order to cope with both past and future pressures.

With the development of parietal lobes, humans and Neanderthals share a crucial evolutionary step.

The key progression awakened the capacity to pay attention and live in the moment, but it has emerged that only humans (Homo sapiens) went on to expand the advantage to the point where individuals had conscious control of their minds.

The study, which was co-authored by Roberto Colom of the Psychology Department at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) and Emiliano Bruner of the National Research Center on Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Burgos, Spain, was published in the academic journal Intelligence.

To research the evolution of the brain, Bruner utilized approaches from archaeology and paleontology.

The study shows that changes in the brain’s parietal lobes were very subtle in Neanderthals who had a highly developed ability for attention.

Modern humans, whose parietal lobes significantly changed in size, reached the maturity of this attention span.

According to researchers, attention is a determinant of intelligence since it enables us to continuously coordinate several brain processes despite outside distractions.

The study of the evolution of the parietal lobes, an important part of the attention network, allowed researchers to determine their impact on the ability to stay focused on one objective over time in the face of internal and external distractions.

Bruner said: “Considering the close relationship between attention capacity and meditation, and to set the cat among the pigeons, it occurred to us to investigate whether extinct hominins might have been capable of practicing the selection and maintenance of mental stimuli.”

The parietal lobes are involved in our visual imagination and our capacity to project memories of the past and forecasts of the future.

Stress, anxiety, and sadness can be brought on by an imbalance between the internal and external ideas that results from a mismatch between these projections and the attention network.

They also examined Neanderthal ecology and tools to see which behaviors indicate evolutionary changes in working memory and visuospatial ability.

Bruner noted that it is hard to conclude that Neanderthals could meditate since they did not experience the same tension and anxiety as contemporary humans because their attention was focused on the now rather than jumping between the past and the future like modern Homo sapiens do.

Meditate, also known as mindfulness, trains the perceptual and attention systems and is investigated in neuroscience for its ability to keep the mind focused on the present moment.


1 comment
  1. Dr Ainslie Meares published the atavistic regression theory of mental homeostasis over 60 years ago. It is to the effect that the minds own natural meditation involves a slowing and stilling of the mind in which it rests. This represents a step backwards towards that of a primitive ancestor such as the one name above. Meares’ was an internationally recognised psychiatrist who taught the above type of meditation to many people and wrote many books about it before he passed in the mid 1980s. His books have become harder to get, however, Ainslie Meares on Meditation explains his meditation process and cues in detail. Some other books I have written summarise various of his other ideas.

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