Knitting & the Prefrontal Cortex

Knitting and the Brain

 The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a big region at the front of the brain. It could be called the control center of the brain since it helps to control thoughts and actions and is responsible for our personality, decision making and social behaviour. It’s main job is to control our emotional responses to stress. Research has found that high levels of stress rapidly impairs the cognitive functions of the PFC and chronic stress exposure can eventually lead to deterioration. So how does this relate to knitting? Knitting reduces stress and can even strengthen the prefrontal cortex. Read on to discover more.

Types of Stress and the Brain

 The amygdala is another important brain structure involved in stress response. This is the part of the brain that detects stress. The PFC helps the amygdala to see the stressor as less scary, or non-life threatening. Not all stress is exactly negative. We may experience positive mild stress on a daily level which briefly increases the heart rate. This type of stress actually develops a healthy response system and benefits us when we need to be energised and focused. Toxic or chronic stress is characterised by repeated intense activation of the stress response. Chronic childhood stress in particular can affect the development of the brain and body.

Knitting As Meditation

 The good news is that meditation is known to support the functioning of the brain and to alleviate stress. Researchers have found that a regular meditation practice increases alpha waves, the relaxation brain waves, and decreases depression and anxiety. Harvard Medical School used MRI technology to look into how meditation affects the brain. They concluded that meditative activities activate the PFC and studies by Newsweek confirm this. They studied the neurology of meditation and spiritual experiences. Scans of the brain during meditation also showed the prefrontal cortex lighting up. As we have discovered in our earlier articles, knitting can provide the same benefits as meditation. The act of sitting quietly in a chair and focusing on the knitting needles, the pattern and the breath is a meditative activity which reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increases relaxation brain waves.


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Image credits: Dr. Karen Norberg, Collection of the Boston Museum of Science