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. "
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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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