BOLD Signal in Insula is Differentially Related to Cardiac Function during Compassion Meditation in Experts vs. Novices

Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin, 1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53705, USA.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.36). 06/2009; 47(3):1038-46. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.04.081
Source: PubMed


The brain and the cardiovascular system influence each other during the processing of emotion. The study of the interactions of these systems during emotion regulation has been limited in human functional neuroimaging, despite its potential importance for physical health. We have previously reported that mental expertise in cultivation of compassion alters the activation of circuits linked with empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli. Guided by the finding that heart rate increases more during blocks of compassion meditation than neutral states, especially for experts, we examined the interaction between state (compassion vs. neutral) and group (novice, expert) on the relation between heart rate and BOLD signal during presentation of emotional sounds presented during each state. Our findings revealed that BOLD signal in the right middle insula showed a significant association with heart rate (HR) across state and group. This association was stronger in the left middle/posterior insula when experts were compared to novices. The positive coupling of HR and BOLD was higher within the compassion state than within the neutral state in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex for both groups, underlining the role of this region in the modulation of bodily arousal states. This state effect was stronger for experts than novices in somatosensory cortices and the right inferior parietal lobule (group by state interaction). These data confirm that compassion enhances the emotional and somatosensory brain representations of others' emotions, and that this effect is modulated by expertise. Future studies are needed to further investigate the impact of compassion training on these circuits.

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    • "In addition to emotion regulation and coping, mindfulness has also been linked to the cultivation of various interpersonal skills and dispositions, including empathy, perspective taking, and compassion (Lutz et al. 2008; Singer and Lamm 2009). These skills and dispositions can lessen the stress associated with interpersonal relationships. "

    Mindfulness 07/2015; DOI:10.1007/s12671-015-0425-4
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    • "It is also involved in more complex psychological processes such as affective processing and regulation (Craig, 2002; Wager and Barrett, 2004; Paulus and Stein, 2006), decision-making (Brass and Haggard, 2010; Naqvi and Bechara, 2010; Naqvi et al., 2014), moral judgment (Moll et al., 2005), self-referential processing (D'Argembeau et al., 2012), and social emotions such as sympathy (Decety and Michalska, 2010), empathy (Singer et al., 2004), rejection (Eisenberger et al., 2003; Cacioppo et al., 2013), compassion (Bruneau et al., 2012), and love (Bartels and Zeki, 2004; Cacioppo et al., 2012). Our findings point toward the need to investigate possible cultural differences in AI activity and network connectivity across various domains of processing, as well as the need for studies probing the developmental mechanisms by which culture or experience (e.g., with compassion meditation; Lutz et al., 2009) may be organizing or biasing this region's functioning. "
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    ABSTRACT: The anterior insula (AI) maps visceral states and is active during emotional experiences, a functional confluence that is central to neurobiological accounts of feelings. Yet, it is unclear how AI activity correlates with feelings during social emotions, and whether this correlation may be influenced by culture, as studies correlating real-time AI activity with visceral states and feelings have focused on Western subjects feeling physical pain or basic disgust. Given psychological evidence that social-emotional feelings are cognitively constructed within cultural frames, we asked Chinese and American participants to report their feeling strength to admiration and compassion-inducing narratives during fMRI with simultaneous electrocardiogram recording. Trial-by-trial, cardiac arousal and feeling strength correlated with ventral and dorsal AI activity bilaterally but predicted different variance, suggesting that interoception and social-emotional feeling construction are concurrent but dissociable AI functions. Further, although the variance that correlated with cardiac arousal did not show cultural effects, the variance that correlated with feelings did. Feeling strength was especially associated with ventral AI activity (the autonomic modulatory sector) in the Chinese group but with dorsal AI activity (the visceral-somatosensory/cognitive sector) in an American group not of Asian descent. This cultural group difference held after controlling for posterior insula activity and was replicated. A bi-cultural East-Asian American group showed intermediate results. The findings help elucidate how the AI supports feelings and suggest that previous reports that dorsal AI activation reflects feeling strength are culture related. More broadly, the results suggest that the brain’s ability to construct conscious experiences of social emotion is less closely tied to visceral processes than neurobiological models predict and at least partly open to cultural influence and learning.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 09/2014; 8:728. DOI:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00728 · 3.63 Impact Factor
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    • "The AI has often been identified in association with sharing various emotions of another person's perceived affect (Fan et al., 2011), and activity in the right mid-and anterior insula is associated with measures of arousal (heart rate and galvanic skin responses) (e.g. Critchley et al., 2002; Lutz et al., 2009 "
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    ABSTRACT: The perception of oneself as absorbed in the thoughts, feelings and happenings of a fictive character (e.g. in a novel or film) as if the character’s experiences were one’s own is referred to as identification. We investigated whether individual variation in the personality trait of identification is associated with individual variation in the structure of specific brain regions, using surface and volume-based morphometry. The hypothesized regions of interest were selected on the basis of their functional role in subserving the cognitive processing domains considered important for identification (i.e. mental imagery, empathy, theory of mind and merging) and for the immersive experience called ‘presence’. Controlling for age, sex, whole-brain volume and other traits, identification covaried significantly with the left hippocampal volume, cortical thickness in the right anterior insula and the left dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, and with gray matter volume in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These findings show that trait identification is associated with structural variation in specific brain regions. The findings are discussed in relation to the potential functional contribution of these regions to identification.
    Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 01/2014; DOI:10.1093/scan/nst179 · 7.37 Impact Factor
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