Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation - an fMRI Study

M.D., University Hospital of Psychiatry Zürich, Department for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics Lenggstrasse 32 Phone: +41 44 384 23 57, P.O.-Box 1931 Fax: +41 44 384 25 06, CH - 8032 Zürich, Switzerland, .
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 7.37). 04/2013; 9(6). DOI: 10.1093/scan/nst043
Source: PubMed


Mindfulness - an attentive, non-judgmental focus on present experiences - is increasingly incorporated in psychotherapeutic treatments as a skill fostering emotion regulation. Neurobiological mechanisms of actively induced emotion regulation are associated with prefrontally mediated down-regulation of, for instance, the amygdala. We were interested in neurobiological correlates of a short mindfulness instruction during emotional arousal. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated effects of a short mindfulness intervention during the cued expectation and perception of negative and potentially negative pictures (50% probability) in 24 healthy individuals compared to 22 controls.The mindfulness intervention was associated with increased activations in prefrontal regions during the expectation of negative and potentially negative pictures compared to controls. During the perception of negative stimuli, reduced activation was identified in regions involved in emotion processing (amygdala, parahippocampal gyrus). Prefrontal and right insular activations when expecting negative pictures correlated negatively with trait mindfulness, suggesting that more mindful individuals required less regulatory resources to attenuate emotional arousal.Our findings suggest emotion regulatory effects of a short mindfulness intervention on a neurobiological level.

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    • "Goldin and Gross, 2010; Taylor et al., 2011; Zeidan et al., 2011, 2014; Desbordes et al., 2012; Gard et al., 2012; Pickut et al., 2013; Lutz et al., 2014 "
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    ABSTRACT: Although research on the effects of mindfulness meditation (MM) is increasing, still very little has been done to address its influence on the white matter (WM) of the brain. We hypothesized that the practice of MM might affect the WM microstructure adjacent to five brain regions of interest associated with mindfulness. Diffusion tensor imaging was employed on samples of meditators and non-meditators (n = 64) in order to investigate the effects of MM on group difference and aging. Tract-Based Spatial Statistics was used to estimate the fractional anisotrophy of the WM connected to the thalamus, insula, amygdala, hippocampus, and anterior cingulate cortex. The subsequent generalized linear model analysis revealed group differences and a group-by-age interaction in all five selected regions. These data provide preliminary indications that the practice of MM might result in WM connectivity change and might provide evidence on its ability to help diminish age-related WM degeneration in key regions which participate in processes of mindfulness.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2016 · Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience
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    • "One influential study on mindful selfreferential processing after a mindfulness course found a shift from a narrative self-focus, associated with cortical mid-line areas like the dorso-medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) towards a more experiential body awareness (Farb et al., 2007). However, other studies report increases in mid-line areas related to mindfulness, as during mindful affect labeling (Creswell et al., 2007; Lieberman et al., 2007), mindful self-awareness (Herwig et al., 2010), and mindful perception of emotional stimuli in meditation-naïve participants (Lutz et al., 2014), and also in mindfulness meditators during mindful breathing (Hölzel et al., 2007). Many studies on self-related processes contain a factor of decision making, i.e., participants judge whether a particular adjective describes themselves versus someone else (Northoff et al., 2006). "
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    ABSTRACT: Mental health benefits of mindfulness techniques are thought to involve changes in self-processing, such as decreased attachment to the self, higher self-compassion and lower emotional reactivity to inner experience. However, self-related emotion processing in regular mindfulness practitioners is not extensively studied. In the current work we investigate differential neural and behavioral correlates of self-criticism and self-praise in 22 mid-to-long-term mindfulness meditators (LTM) compared to 22 matched meditation-naïve participants (MNP). In an fMRI experiment, participants were presented with blocks of individually selected positive (self-praise, SP), negative (self-critical, SC), negative but not-self-critical (NNSC), and general, neutral (NT) adjectives, and reported their affective state after the blocks. On the neural level, both SP and SC yielded more activation in the dorso-medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) in LTM compared to MNP. Activation in this region correlated positively with non-react scores of the Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and showed decreased functional connectivity to posterior midline and parietal regions in LTM compared to MNP during both self-related appraisals. Further, we found evidence for emotional reactivity in LTM on the neural level, particularly during SP. On the behavioral level, a mixed effects analysis revealed significantly higher differences in affective ratings after blocks of SC compared to SP in MNP compared to LTM. Differences in DMPFC activation and affective ratings point towards increased awareness, potentially mindful regulation of SC and SP in LTM, while decreased connectivity to other regions of the default mode network could reflect a decreased self-focus in this group. As such, our results illustrate differences in self-related emotional processes in meditators and offer clinically relevant insights into mechanisms of mindful emotion regulation when facing self-criticism and self-praise.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2015 · NeuroImage
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    • "In several related studies, 20 min of mindfulness practice for 3–4 days improved sustained attention, visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning, while reducing fatigue, anxiety, heart rate, and subjective experiences of pain compared to controls and sham meditation groups (Zeidan et al., 2010a,b,c). After training a mindfulness group with brief written instructions before a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan session, Lutz et al. (2014) found that mindfulness was associated with greater emotion regulation (increased superior mPFC) in anticipation of negative pictures, and decreased emotional responding during perception of emotional pictures (decreased amygdala and parahippocampal gyrus activity) compared to a control group. "
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    ABSTRACT: Ruminative thoughts about a stressful event can seem subjectively real, as if the imagined event were happening in the moment. One possibility is that this subjective realism results from simulating the self as engaged in the stressful event (immersion). If so, then the process of decentering-disengaging the self from the event-should reduce the subjective realism associated with immersion, and therefore perceived stressfulness. To assess this account of decentering, we taught non-meditators a strategy for disengaging from imagined events, simply viewing these events as transient mental states (mindful attention). In a subsequent neuroimaging session, participants imagined stressful and non-stressful events, while either immersing themselves or adopting mindful attention. In conjunction analyses, mindful attention down-regulated the processing of stressful events relative to baseline, whereas immersion up-regulated their processing. In direct contrasts between mindful attention and immersion, mindful attention showed greater activity in brain areas associated with perspective shifting and effortful attention, whereas immersion showed greater activity in areas associated with self-processing and visceral states. These results suggest that mindful attention produces decentering by disengaging embodied senses of self from imagined situations so that affect does not develop. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2015 · Neuropsychologia
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