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Theta Brain Waves

The Research:
Theta brain waves (3-8hz) have been connected via extensive study to many different phenomena in the brain. Research on subjects as diverse as memory, emotion, neural plasticity, sleep, meditation and hypnosis have all drawn links to theta activity. A theta state is associated with stage 1 sleep- very light sleep from which subjects can easily be awoken.

Connections between meditation and theta activity have been researched and documented thoroughly, particularly in the case of both Zen and Transcendental Meditation. Meditative theta states are often associated with vivid mental imagery, peacefulness and generally pleasant experiences.

More recent research highlights the interesting role that theta may play in memory function. One theory proposed by Lisman and Idiart suggests that short term memories are constantly refreshed in order to retain their presence in the brain while they are being accessed. They suggest that individual memories are refreshed at the gamma rate, while the whole refresh cycle pulses at a theta rate. They believe that this may be why an average of 7 items can be held in short term memory by most people - per each 6Hz theta cycle, the 40hz gamma can cycle an average of 7 times. (Lisman, J.E. and Idiart, M.A.P. (1995) "Storage of 7 ^ 2 short-term memories in oscillatory subcycles." Science 267, 1512-1515)

On the significance of theta brain waves, Gabe Turow writes: "The links between the theta frequency and memory, emotion, and neural plasticity on a localized level provide relevant clues to questions on why visualizations of meditators in theta are so vivid, why meditators have such good memories, and why hypnosis can create lasting changes in the brain."