Brain Changes in Acupuncturists Over Time

An interesting article from the Journal of Chinese Medicine caught my eye and that of several other acupuncturists, I’m sure. The article is entitled, ‘Acupuncturists Have Different Brains’. WOW! I hope this really means we have super powers!

The article describes a small Chinese study comprised of 22 acupuncturists and 22 non-acupuncturists. Both groups participated in experiments designed to assess their fine motor skills (small muscle movements coordinated with the eyes) and their ability to discriminate among objects by using touch (tactile spatial discrimination). Acupuncturists scored higher on both tests than non-acupuncturists.

Researchers also tested both groups on their ability to regulate their emotional responses to images of painful situations. The results of the test showed that the acupuncturists had a better ability to regulate their emotional responses.

Now comes the most interesting part which also explains some of the findings.  Researchers used fMRI scanning to see if these differences between acupuncturists and non-acupuncturists correlated to structural differences in the brain. Here is what they found…

Acupuncturists had more grey matter in three areas of the brain. And the longer they had been practicing acupuncture, the more volume of grey matter they had in these areas. More grey matter was found in:

1. The left primary somatosensory cortex (SI), a region known to play an important role in the perception of touch.
2. A region of the cerebellum associated with fine motor control of the fingers.
3. A section of the brain which involves the regulation of emotional responses.

This raises the question of whether acupuncturists are drawn to their field because they already possess existing abilities; or they learn the abilities during school and years of practice; or, most likely, a combination of existing ability plus training to hone the skills. This study confirms a point that vocational psychologists have been making for a long time – people are most successful in careers that combine their ability and their interest. Ability alone or interest without ability just doesn’t work.

(Length of Acupuncture Training and Structural Plastic Brain Changes in Professional Acupuncturists. PLoS One. 2013 Jun 19;8(6):e66591).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *