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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cognitive and Physiological Effects of Falun Gong Qigong

  • Author(s): Bendig, Benjamin Warren
  • Advisor(s): Shapiro, David
  • Cheng, Patricia W
  • et al.

This dissertation examines 1) baseline cognitive, physiological, and psychological differences between Falun Gong (FLG) practitioners and novices and 2) acute cognitive, physiological, and psychological effects after a 91-minute sequence of the FLG qigong exercises in 22 experienced FLG practitioners and 17 novices. We employed a Lateralized Attention Network Task (LANT) that measures conflict resolution and spatial orienting in each hemisphere. FLG practitioners showed an advantage in accuracy for both interhemispheric and right-hemisphere trials, as well as differences compared to novices in emotional processing. Both groups improved in overall reaction time on the attention task and on a coordination task after practicing the FLG exercises. Furthermore, there was an overall improvement in positive and energy/arousal moods for both groups, and novices had reduced negative mood after the exercises. Both groups acutely increased sympathetic activity, as measured by skin conductance and the ratio of low frequency to high frequency heart rate variability. Positive correlations of changes in accuracy in the right hemisphere with changes in both skin conductance and high-frequency heart rate variability suggest that for practitioners, cognitive improvement from pre- to post-FLG can be attributed to the FLG exercises, and at the same time suggest an important psychophysiological relationship concerning chronic effects of FLG and the right hemisphere of the brain. Changes in high-frequency heart rate variability also positively correlated with changes in reaction time. Skin conductance did not correlate with any changes in reaction time, but values pre- and post-FLG are negatively correlated with reaction time. Correlations between amount of FLG practice and depression, anxiety, sleep quality, and mood suggest that regular practice of the FLG exercises and associated activities can provide a number of long-term psychological benefits.

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