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This pilot study assessed the effects of a five day focused meditation training on the interplay between emotional interference and anxiety in a non clinical sample randomized into two groups (experimental=13; control=18). Emotional interference was indexed comparing the reaction times in an attention span task with negative or neutral distracting images. Anxiety experienced during the task was also assessed through self-report. Only in the control group higher anxiety levels interacted with greater emotional interference and a worse evaluation of valence and arousal of emotional images. These preliminary findings suggest that meditation may help modulating anxiety effects on bias to negative stimuli, and that even a short training may facilitate self-regulatory processes.
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Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa
Abr-Jun 2016, Vol. 32 n. 2, pp. 1-8
Brief Meditation and the Interaction between Emotional Interference and Anxiety1
Carolina Baptista Menezes2
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina
Mirtes G. Pereira
Izabela Mocaiber
Universidade Federal Fluminense
Lisiane Bizarro
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul
ABSTRACT - This pilot study assessed the effects of a ve day focused meditation training on the interplay between emotional
interference and anxiety in a non clinical sample randomized into two groups (experimental=13; control=18). Emotional
interference was indexed comparing the reaction times in an attention span task with negative or neutral distracting images.
Anxiety experienced during the task was also assessed through self-report. Only in the control group higher anxiety levels
interacted with greater emotional interference and a worse evaluation of valence and arousal of emotional images. These
preliminary ndings suggest that meditation may help modulating anxiety effects on bias to negative stimuli, and that even a
short training may facilitate self-regulatory processes.
Keywords: meditation, emotional interference, anxiety, self-regulatory processes
Meditação breve e a interação entre interferência emocional e ansiedade
RESUMO - Este estudo piloto avaliou os efeitos de cinco dias de meditação focada na relação entre interferência emocional e
ansiedade em amostra não clínica randomizada em dois grupos (experimental=13; controle=18). A interferência emocional foi
indexada comparando os tempos de reação em uma tarefa de atenção com imagens distratoras negativas ou neutras. Também
foi avaliado o autorrelato da ansiedade durante a tarefa. Apenas no grupo controle uma maior ansiedade interagiu com uma
maior interferência emocional e uma pior avaliação de valência e alerta (arousal) das imagens emocionais. Esses achados
preliminares sugerem que a meditação pode ajudar a modular o efeito da ansiedade no viés para estímulos negativos, e que
mesmo um treino breve pode facilitar processos autorregulatórios.
Palavras-chave: meditação, interferência emocional, ansiedade, processos autorregulatórios
1 Acknowledgment: Este estudo contou com o financiamento do
Conselho Nacional de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento Tecnológico
2 Endereço para correspondência: Psicologia, Universidade Federal de
Pelotas, Avenida Duque de Caxias, n. 250, Fragata, Pelotas, RS, Brasil.
CEP: 96.030-001. E-mail: para
The increase in research on sitting and silent meditation
has been generally accompanied by positive psychological
results, such as reduced distress and anxiety symptoms, as
well as improved well-being and regulatory skills (Chiesa,
Serretti, & Jakobsen, 2013; Lutz, Dunne, & Davidson, 2007).
Naturally, one question that arises relates to how much
practice is necessary for these outcomes to take effect and,
accordingly, different durations of meditation practice have
been tested (Carmody & Baer, 2009).
There is some evidence that interventions as short as a few
days can already promote some expected changes. One such
case comes from a study investigating a ve days program
called Integrative Mind Body Training (IBMT), in which
practice was done for 20 minutes daily (Tang et al., 2007).
Results showed a signicant improvement in executive
attention, as measured by the Attention Network Test,
compared to a control group that did progressive relaxation
for the same period (Tang et al., 2007).
Tang et al. (2007) proposed that IBMT superiority over
relaxation may be due to the combination of techniques that
characterize the program, such as breathing, mental imagery,
relaxation and meditation. However, positive results were
also found with interventions using an exclusive meditation
technique. For instance, one study that trained people for 4
days using a focused meditation practice for 20 minutes daily
- compared to a group that trained attention by listening to
an audio book - found signicant improvements in sustained
attention and mindfulness scores only in meditators (Zeidan,
Johnson, Diamond, David, & Goolkasian, 2010a).
Hence, the formal practice of meditation seems to account
for attentional improvements and, importantly, evidence
also extends to the emotional domain. After attending these
interventions, participants signicantly improved self-reports
of mood, state anxiety, and decreased cigarette craving (Tang
et al., 2007; Tang, Tang, & Posner, 2013; Zeidan et al., 2010a;
Zeidan, Johnson, Gordon, & Goolkasian, 2010b). In addition,
after an experimental induction of stress (Tang et al., 2007),
and pain (Liu, Wang, Chang, Chen, & Si, 2013), individuals
who had undertaken a brief meditation training were better
at reducing cortisol levels that had risen with the stressful
situation, and at improving tolerance and distress during
the pain experience, respectively. Also, similar amount of
practice - 20 minutes for 7 days - helped participants decrease
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CB Menezes et al.
their evaluation of negative valenced pictures, which was
accompanied by a reduced activity in the left amygdala
(Taylor et al., 2011).
It is discussed that the combination of an attentive and
a relaxed mind-body state is a key feature of meditation,
likely responsible for the positive results observed (Lutz
et al., 2007; Tang & Posner, 2009; Wallace, 2008). This
assumption is corroborated by the combination of results so
far mentioned, as well as by the positive correlation found
between indexes of central and autonomic nervous system
regulation in participants of the IBMT intervention (Tang et
al., 2009). Specically, the pre-post theta wave increase in
frontal midline anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) positively
correlated with high frequency heart rate variability (Tang
et al., 2009).
This nding is in line with the idea that ACC is involved
in a form of attention that helps regulating cognitive and
emotional processing (Bush, Luu, & Posner, 2000), and
whose function mediates parasympathetic activity (Critchley
et al., 2003). Importantly, the correlation reported by Tang
et al. (2009) not only elucidates that meditation generates
greater balance between attention and relaxation, but also
demonstrates that since an early stage of practice this
combination may take effect, given that participants had
undergone a ve days training.
Noteworthy, the assumption that this balance may
constitute the mechanism that enables meditation to promote
positive psychological functioning seems to be supported by
ndings from the eld of emotion regulation. Evidence shows
that the use of cognitive strategies to regulate emotions, such
as attention allocation, can be undermined by high levels
of anxiety (Berggren & Derakshan, 2013; Mocaiber et al.,
2009; Sheppes, Luria, Fukuda, & Gross, 2013), in line with
results showing that affective states may be as important as
cognitive skills for the regulation of emotions (Kanske &
Kotz, 2012).
The Present Work
The main objective of this research was to investigate the
effects of a ve day training in focused meditation (FM) on
the interplay between emotional interference and anxiety in
a non clinical sample of undergraduates. For this purpose,
we assessed the interactions between interference indexes
obtained through reaction times in a behavioral task, and
the subjective ratings of experienced anxiety during the task.
The behavioral paradigm (Erthal et al., 2005) consisted of
a negative arousing or neutral picture displayed in the center
of the screen with a peripheral bar on each side of the picture.
Subjects should look at the center, but ignore the image,
and answer if the bars had the same orientation or not. The
type of image (negative or neutral) and orientation (same or
different) were randomly and equally distributed across trials.
Also, in order to guarantee the attentional engagement in the
relevant task, bars orientation could be presented in blocks
with either a 90° or a 6° inclination difference.
Based on ndings that even a short meditation training
can benefit the practitioner on attention and emotional
outcomes (Tang et al., 2007; Zeidan et al., 2010a), and that
anxiety can undermine the cognitive regulation of emotions
(Sheppes et al., 2013), we expected that for the focused
meditation training emotion interference would not change
according to anxiety levels.
College students from the Universidade Federal do Rio
Grande do Sul (UFRGS), southern Brazil, were invited
to take part in the study through email and posters spread
throughout three campuses. One hundred and twenty nine
(129) students volunteered. Participants were excluded if
they were not between 20-40 years old, did not have normal
or corrected sight, reported any psychiatric or neurologic
disorder, were taking any psychoactive medication, were
undergoing psychotherapy treatment, and had had previous
experience with meditation or yoga.
Initially, 46 eligible participants were equally and
randomly assigned to one of two groups (focused meditation-
FM and wait-list control-WLC). The nal sample comprised
31 participants [FM: N=13, 50,5% female, 100% single,
Mage=24.4 years (SD=4.27); WLC: N=18, 67% female, 80%
single, Mage=24.4(SD=4.9)]. These variables did not differ
between groups (p = > .05), and there was no signicant
difference in attrition rates [χ²(1)=3.37, p=.09].
It should be noted that the study was carried out during
the winter holiday period and on the week the intervention
was delivered it rained very much during the ve days -
which is usual at this time of the year in this region. Hence,
we believe that the bad weather conditions inuenced the
higher drop outs in the meditation group, although we did not
assess this information directly. In line with this assumption,
after the posttest assessment, the 18 control participants
who had remained in the control group underwent the ve
days training without any further drop outs. The study was
approved by the Research Ethic Committee from the Institute
of Psychology (UFRGS), under the registration number
25000.089325/2006-58, and all participants gave informed
consent prior to assessment.
Screening tools
Sociodemographic Questionnaire. This questionnaire
was created for the present study in order to investigate
sociodemographic and exclusion criteria variables.
Self-Report Questionnaire - SRQ (Harding et al., 1980).
The SRQ consists of 23 questions that investigate minor and
psychotic psychiatric symptoms through yes/no answers. The
validated Brazilian version with sensitivity and specicity
coefcients of 83% and 80%, respectively, was used (Mari
& Willians, 1986). The cut point for female and male was 7
and 6 positive answers, respectively.
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Meditation, Emotional Interference, Anxiety, Self-Regulatory Processes
Pretest and Posttest
Discrimination Task - DT (Erthal et al., 2005). Figure
1 illustrates the trial structure, as well as the task rationale.
Each trial initiated with a xation cross, shown for 1.500 ms.
Next, a central picture (9º X 12º) and two peripheral bars (0.3º
X 3.0º) were presented for 200 ms. The bars were at 9º to
the right and left of the center of the picture. A whole-screen
checkerboard mask was then shown, remaining on the screen
until the subject responded or for 2.000 ms, which was the
response deadline. The subjects were instructed to ignore the
task-irrelevant central images and to respond as quickly and
as accurately as possible whether or not the orientations of the
peripheral bars were the same. Keypresses (with the right or
left index nger) corresponding to same/different orientations
(“q” or “p”) were counterbalanced across subjects.
Two classes of images were employed: “neutral”
and “emotional/unpleasant”. Neutral images consisted
of photographs of parts of the body or neutral faces, and
unpleasant images consisted of photographs of mutilated
bodies. We chose mutilated bodies because these are
considered to be a very impacting category of emotional
stimuli, likely to cause interference. Indeed, it has been
already demonstrated that these images are efcient in
generating an interference effect in the same paradigm used
in the present study (Erthal et al., 2005).
One hundred and twenty different images, 60 neutral
and 60 unpleasant were utilized. A different set of pictures
was used in the pretest and posttest sessions and in each
session pictures were repeated once. Forty-two images (14
neutral and 28 unpleasant) were taken from the International
Affective Picture System (IAPS) developed by Lang and
colleagues (Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 2005), and the
remaining ones were obtained from the Internet.
For the internet images, the protocol developed by
Lang and colleagues (Bradley & Lang, 1994) was used for
assessing valence and arousal (N = 20, Mage = 22.3 years,
SD = 1.8). Overall, images in the neutral category had mean
valence ratings of 5.0 and mean arousal ratings of 3.3; images
in the unpleasant category had mean valence ratings of 2.2
and mean arousal ratings of 6.4.
The experimental session started with three training
blocks containing 20 trials each, which were followed
by three regular blocks of trials (80 trials each). The
order of neutral and unpleasant images within a block
was randomized. During training blocks, all images were
photographs of objects, such as tools and furniture. During
each experimental block, the type of bar-orientation was
fixed, and the two different orientations were obtained
by manipulating the angular difference on nonmatching
trials (90º for one block and 6º for two blocks). Each block
contained the same number of match and nonmatching trials
and the same number of neutral and unpleasant images.
Valence and arousal levels for emotional and neutral
images presented in each block type were matched to
avoid differences in emotionality between blocks. During
the training blocks, participants received feedback, which
indicated anticipatory responses (reaction times - RT - less
than 100 ms), slow responses (RT greater than 2.000 ms), as
well as whether an incorrect key was pressed; during training,
the RT was also indicated on the screen after each trial.
Experimental blocks, which followed the training blocks,
lasted approximately ve min each, and their order was
randomized across subjects. The subjects sat approximately
60 cm from the display and the stimuli were presented with
the software E-Prime.
Anxiety rating. An analog scale was used comprising
one question about how anxious participants felt during the
task. Answers were given on a 10-point scale (0 = not at all,
10 = very much).
Picture ratings. Participants viewed the pictures that had
been previously presented in the Discrimination Task in order
to assess their valence and arousal. In total, 4 blocks were
presented: 20 negative pictures taken from the 90º condition,
20 neutral pictures taken from the 90º condition, 20 negative
pictures taken from the 6º condition, and 20 neutral pictures
taken from the condition. For the 6º condition, because
there were two blocks during the behavioral task, the 20
negative and 20 neutral pictures were randomly selected
from both blocks. For the 4 blocks, each image was displayed
for 1 sec and in the end participants had 15 sec. to rate the
whole block using the paper-and-pencil version of the Self-
Assessment Manikin (Bradley & Lang, 1994). For both
valence and arousal subjects rated from 1 (very unpleasant
or very relaxing, respectively) to 9 (very pleasant or very
alerting, respectively). Hence, the lower the valence score,
the greater the unpleasantness, whereas the higher the arousal
score, the greater the alertness.
Figure 1. Experimental design: Across three blocks, in each
trial a centered xation cross was presented for 1.500 ms,
followed by a central picture with two peripheral bars presented
simultaneously (for 200 ms) to the right and left of xation. A
checkerboard-like mask was then presented, which remained on
the screen until the response was made or until 2.000 ms had
elapsed. Subjects were instructed to ignore the central picture
and attend to the peripheral bars, responding with a keypress
as quickly and accurately as possible whether the bars were
in the same or a different orientation. Bars' orientation could
be presented with either a 90° or a 6° inclination difference.
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CB Menezes et al.
Design and Procedure
This study comprised a pilot randomized controlled trial
that relied on a factorial repeated measure design. Concerning
procedure, after advertisement, volunteers interested in taking
part in the study were sent the screening questionnaires
online. Those eligible to participate were randomly allocated
to one of the two groups. An email was sent to inform
participants the group to which they had been allocated and
requesting them to schedule a visit to the laboratory for the
pretest session. Two assessments lasting approximately forty
minutes, one at pretest and another at posttest (during the two
weeks prior and after training, respectively), were carried out
at the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, Neuroscience,
and Behavior, at the Institute of Psychology, UFRGS.
The following sequence of measures was used for both
assessments: DT, Anxiety Rating, and Picture Ratings. FM
training included ve daily meetings, each lasting ninety
minutes. WLC participants did not take part in any activity
between testing sessions, but did receive the meditation
training after nal testing. Trainings were conducted by
the rst author, a psychologist trained on yoga, meditation
and mindfulness practices, and with group experience.
Meetings always started with a brief talk about participants’
doubts, difculties, or experiences during the rest of the day
following the previous meeting, followed by instructions for
practice, breathing exercises, formal meditation practice, and
again a brief talk about the experience with that particular
In the two first meetings, formal practice lasted 15
and 20 minutes, respectively. For the following meetings,
practices lasted 30 minutes. Participants could either sit cross-
legged on a mat, or on a chair with their feet on the ground.
Because everyone was a beginner, they were instructed to
pay attention to the breath, trying to slightly prolong the
exhalation. Also, in order to characterize focused meditation,
and to try to guarantee they could maintain their focus to the
meditation process and to the present moment, participants
were instructed to count every exhalation (other types of
focusing, such as the use of mantras, were not used in order to
avoid any direct links to a specic philosophical or religious
tradition). For the three rst meetings, counting consisted
of cycles of 1 to 10, and for the next two days, participants
counted backwards from 100 to 1 (always one number per
exhalation). Participants were not required to carry out extra
practice outside the meetings.
Data Analysis
For DT analyses, all anticipatory and slow responses
(< 100 ms and > 2.000 ms, respectively) were excluded;
eliminated trials were infrequent at pre and posttest (0.70%
and 0.78% of the trials, respectively). Interference produced
by the emotional pictures was analyzed relying on reaction
times (RT) as dependent variables, and according to the
following procedure: we calculated the RT means for
each type of image and then created an index of emotion
interference subtracting emotional from neutral values for
each bar orientation, generating two factors (interference in
the 90º condition x interference in the 6º condition). The more
positive the value, the greater the emotional interference.
Means for anxiety and picture ratings were also analyzed
based on two factors (anxiety: high x low; valence: emotional
x neutral; arousal: emotional x neutral). At pretest, a factorial
general linear model (GLM) was used to assess the interaction
between emotion interference (90º x 6º) and anxiety (high x
low) as within factors, and group (FM x WLC) as a between-
subjects factor. Valence and arousal were separately analyzed
for assessing their interaction with anxiety, considering
type of images (emotional x neutral) and anxiety (high x
low) as within factors, and group (FM x WLC) as between
factor. At posttest, GLMs were carried out with time as an
additional factor (T1 x T2). ANOVAs, polynomial contrasts,
and pairwise comparisons using t-test were applied when
appropriate. For all analyses, the Statistical Package for the
Social Sciences (SPSS 20.0) was used, and the alpha level
for statistical signicance was p = .05.
Discrimination task: Emotion interference. Emotion
interference did not differ according to bar orientation [F(1,
44) = 2.72, p = .11], and did not interact with group [F(2,
44) = .82, p = .37].
Discrimination task: Anxiety x emotion interference.
Ratings of anxiety did not interact with interference [F(1, 42)
= .22, p = .88], nor group [F(1, 42) = 1.06, p = .31].
Picture ratings. There was a main effect of valence
[F(1,44) = 465.45, p < .001; emotional images were more
unpleasant (M = 1.4, SD = .10) than neutral images (M = 5.8,
SD = .17)], and a main effect of arousal [F(1,44) = 249.8, p
< .001; emotional images were more arousing (M = 8.2, SD
= .15) than neutral images (M = 3.4, SD = .26)]. There were
no group interactions for valence [F(1,44) = .11, p = .73],
nor arousal [F(1,44) = .92, p = .34].
Anxiety x picture ratings. There were no signicant
interactions between valence x anxiety x group [F(1,42) =
.98, p = .32], nor arousal x anxiety x group [F(1,42) = 2.6,
p = .12].
Socio-demographic data, as well as pretest measures
were compared between drop-outs (participants who did
not complete the study because they stopped attending the
meetings) and completers (participants who completed
training and both testing sessions), and no significant
differences were found (p = > .05).
Discrimination task: Emotion interference. There were
no interference x time x group interactions [F(1, 29) = 2.54,
p = .13] for the RT outcome.
Discrimination task: Anxiety x emotion interference.
Total interference signicantly differed according to anxiety
ratings, time and group [F(1, 27) = 4.63, p = .04]. In the
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Meditation, Emotional Interference, Anxiety, Self-Regulatory Processes
meditation group total emotional interference was null at
posttest and did not differ between participants reporting low
(M = .85, SD = 13.17) or high (M = .45, SD = 18.7) anxiety
during the task [t(11) = .02, p = .98], but in the control group
total emotional interference was signicantly higher in
participants reporting high anxiety (M = 33.07, SD = 11.41),
compared to low anxiety (M = -33.08, SD = 16.13) [t(16) =
-3.15, p = .006] (Fig. 2).
Picture ratings. Ratings of emotional images remained
more unpleasant [F(1,29) = 519.3, p < .001], and more
arousing [F(1,29) = 295.7, p < .001] compared to neutral
Figure 2. Mean values (ms) representing total emotional interference
- for both bar orientation conditions - according to levels of anxiety
experienced during the task for each group at posttest. FM= focused
meditation; WLC = wait list control. A GLM for repeated measures
indicated that at posttest total emotional interference did not differ
between anxiety levels in the FM group, but it was signicantly
greater in control participants reporting higher anxiety. p < .05
images across groups. There were no signicant interactions
between valence x time x group [F(1,29) = .02, p < .87], nor
arousal x time x group [F(1,29) = .01, p < .89].
Anxiety x picture ratings. There was a significant
interaction between valence x anxiety x time x group [F(1,27)
= 7.17, p = .01]: at posttest. Meditators who reported either
low or high anxiety during the task did not differ on valence
ratings for emotional [t(11) = .08, p = .93], or neutral [t(11)
= -1.16, p = .27] images; in the control group, emotional
images were rated as signicantly more unpleasant among
participants reporting high anxiety, compared to low anxiety
[t(16) = 2.5, p = .02], but no differences were observed for
neutral images [t(16) = -.68, p = .50] (g. 3A).
The same interaction pattern was observed for arousal
[F(1,27) = 6.28, p = .01]: at posttest, meditators who reported
either low or high anxiety during the task did not differ on
arousal ratings for emotional [t(11) = -.73, p = .47], or neutral
[t(11) = -.01, p = .98] images, whereas in the control group
emotional images were rated as signicantly more arousing
among participants reporting high anxiety, relative to low
anxiety [t(16) = -3.05, p = .007], but no differences were
observed for neutral images [t(16) = .00, p = 1.0] (g. 3B).
Figure 3A. Mean values representing valence ratings according
to levels of anxiety experienced during the task for each type of
image, in each group, at posttest. Standard errors are represented by
the error bars. FM= focused meditation; WLC = wait list control.
A GLM for repeated measures revealed that at posttest only in the
WLC group emotional images were rated as signicantly more
unpleasant than neutral ones. 3B. Mean values representing arousal
ratings according to levels of anxiety experienced during the task
for each type of image, in each group, at posttest. Standard errors
are represented by the error bars. FM= focused meditation; WLC
= wait list control. A GLM for repeated measures yielded that at
posttest only in the WLC group emotional images were rated as
signicantly more arousing than neutral ones at posttest. * p < .05
The present pilot study investigated whether a brief
training in focused meditation, comprised of ve consecutive
daily practices, would influence the interplay between
emotion interference and anxiety in a healthy sample of
undergraduates. Emotion interference was indexed by
reaction times obtained from a behavioral task, and anxiety
experienced during the task was measured through self-
reported ratings. Results showed that groups signicantly
differed on emotion interference according to anxiety level.
After meditating on average twenty minutes for ve
consecutive days, emotion interference was null for
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CB Menezes et al.
meditators reporting either low or high anxiety at posttest.
However, for the wait list control group, emotion interference
signicantly differed according to anxiety levels: interference
was greater among control participants reporting high anxiety
experienced during the task. This result was corroborated by
the nding that also only in the control group participants
reporting high anxiety during the task rated emotional images
as signicantly more unpleasant and more arousing.
From a psychological perspective, evidence shows
that higher levels of anxiety can inuence bias to negative
emotions (Bishop, 2007), undermine the effectiveness of
cognitive regulation of negative emotion (Mocaiber et al.,
2009; Sheppes et al., 2013), and interfere in the performance
of conict resolution for negative emotional stimuli (Kanske
& Kotz, 2012). More recently, it has been demonstrated that
anxiety is particularly impairing in the context of disengaging
attention from negative stimuli (Sheppes et al., 2013). Even
though our task did not test the disengagement hypothesis
directly, we believe this rationale might explain our results,
given that in our task the participants’ gaze was directed to
the center of the images, even though they were instructed
to orient their covert attention to the peripheral bars.
Hence, whereas in the control group higher anxiety
levels may have likely impaired the disengagement from the
distracting negative stimuli presented during the attentional
task, meditators seem to have been better able to modulate
this interaction. Also, the impairing inuence of anxiety on
the disengagement from negative stimuli might help explain
why control participants reporting higher anxiety were more
responsive to the unpleasantness and arousal of emotional
On one hand, from the standpoint of emotion regulation,
the presence of better attentional control seems capable of
attenuating the inuence that high anxiety can exert on bias
to negative stimuli (Derryberry & Reed, 2002; Morawetz,
Baudewig, Treue, & Dechent, 2010). However, on the other
hand, anxiety has the potential of interfering with attention
allocation in the context of emotional stimuli (Oliveira,
David, Volchan, & Pereira, 2013; Sheppes et al., 2013).
Thus, in line with some propositions about sitting and
silent meditation, either focused or open monitoring (Lutz,
Slagter, Dunne, & Davidson, 2008; Tang & Posner, 2009;
Zeidan et al., 2010a), we suggest that in spite of being
derived from a short term intervention, our ndings represent
outcomes that may be related to the skills that the practice of
meditation aims to foster. In particular, improved attention
regulation, a more relaxed basal state, and the balance
between these skills (Lutz et al., 2007; Tang & Posner, 2009;
Tang et al., 2009; Wallace, 2008).
Accordingly, it was observed that when novices practice
ten minutes of focused meditation an attention network
consisting of the anterior cingulate, insula and frontal–
parietal regions is signicantly more recruited compared to
a mind wandering condition (Dickenson, Berkman, Arch,
& Lieberman, 2012). Also, one study assessing the effects
of a brief four days meditation training demonstrated that
meditators presented a signicant improvement in sustained
attention as measured by working memory tasks, as well as
reduction in state anxiety, which the authors hypothesized
to be likely interrelated (Zeidan et al., 2010a). Moreover, in
support of these results, after ve days of IBMT training the
increased activation in theta wave in the anterior cingulate
cortex positively correlated with parasympathetic activity
(Tang et al., 2009).
The nding that meditation has the potential to
modulate the interaction between anxiety and emotional
interference - perhaps through fostering a greater balance
between attention regulation and relaxation - may have
important implications for a more positive psychological
functioning. For instance, in line with our results on valence,
one study found that individuals who practiced meditation
for twenty minutes during seven days were less reactive to
negative stimuli, according to their subjective evaluation of
negative valenced pictures, as well as to the neural correlate
of reduced activity in the left amygdala (Taylor et al., 2011).
Another example of implication relates to the nding
that a brief meditation training was able to reduce cigarette
craving (Tang et al., 2013). We suggest this reduction
might have resulted from the meditators’ ability to better
control the interference of cues associated with the drug,
and to reduce attentional bias to these stimuli, which are
processes known to normally lead to craving or to the drug
use behavior (Peuker, Lopes, Menezes, Cunha, & Bizarro,
2013). Likewise, this potential modulation may help reduce
the hazardous interference and impact of stressful stimuli,
in line with ndings that participants of brief meditation
trainings, compared to controls, signicantly reduced cortisol
levels following an experimental stress induction (Tang et
al., 2007), and signicantly improved tolerance and the
experience of distress during an experimental induction of
pain (Liu et al., 2013).
Importantly, the present study shows preliminary results
corroborating the idea that some meditation benets may
take effect since an early stage of practice (Tang et al., 2007;
Tang et al., 2009; Tang et al., 2013; Taylor et al., 2011; Zeidan
et al., 2010a, 2010b). Nevertheless, it should be noted that
comparing novice and expert practitioners yields distinct
effects. For instance, more reduced activation of some
default mode network regions of the brain in the context of
emotional appraisal was observed in long term meditators,
indicating less self referential processes and strengthened
present moment awareness (Taylor et al., 2012). Also, more
systematic comparisons of different types of meditation
trainings are necessary to conrm whether the observed
effects comprise core processes of all kinds of practices, or
whether it is possible to disentangle particular effects for
distinct meditation techniques. Data obtained from some of
the cited studies derived from different meditation trainings,
such as IBMT (Tang et al., 2007; Tang et al., 2009; Tang et
al., 2013), which combines meditation, relaxation and guided
imagery, as well as mindfulness (Taylor et al., 2011), which
implies a more broad-monitoring awareness, in opposition
to the exercise of strictly focusing attention on one object
(Lutz et al., 2008), such as in the focused meditation training
taught in the present study.
Finally, our findings contribute to the discussions
regarding the mechanisms that underlie and foster emotion
regulation skills (Bishop, 2007; Derryberry & Reed, 2002;
Kanske & Kotz, 2012; Mocaiber et al., 2009; Oliveira et
al., 2013; Sheppes et al., 2013), and support the proposition
7Psic.: Teor. e Pesq., Brasília, Abr-Jun 2016, Vol. 32 n. 2, pp. 1-8
Meditation, Emotional Interference, Anxiety, Self-Regulatory Processes
that meditation may be a valuable strategy for the study of
regulatory processes (Menezes, Pereira, & Bizarro, 2012).
However, our results should be extended and complemented
by larger scale trials, as well as by the usage of more
ecologically valid measures. In addition, because the present
study investigated a healthy sample, the question of whether
such a short-term training would benet clinical populations
remains unanswered.
Despite some limitations, such as sample size, high rate
of drop-outs, no power calculation, lack of an active control
group, and no follow up assessment, this pilot study suggests
that a ve day training in focused meditation may be able to
foster emotion regulation skills by modulating the interaction
between emotion interference and anxiety.
It is hypothesized that this effect may result from an
improved attention regulation and a more relaxed basal
state, as well as from their interplay. The present ndings
support the idea that short term trainings may produce some
psychological benets since an early stage of practice. The
results also suggest that this is a relevant nding, because
early effects might function as an important reinforcement
for a more regular and long term practice.
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Recebido em 18.11.2014
Primeira decisão editorial em 13.04.2015
Versão nal em 13.04.2015
Aceito em 08.05.2015 n
... La literatura científica ha señalado importantes repercusiones de la meditación mindfulness sobre la salud mental de quienes la practican, con ejercicios que pueden desarrollarse en pocas semanas, por ejemplo. 7,8,14 Dichas prácticas están asociadas con menores síntomas de estrés, depresión y ansiedad, y pueden ser un importante instrumento para promover la salud mental, especialmente en áreas profesionales que requieren un gran compromiso y tratan con temas que pueden desencadenar estados mentales negativos, como la Enfermería. 2 Al reducir los niveles de estrés, depresión y ansiedad, también promueven la reducción en la magnitud de afectos negativos, lo que hace posible una mejor evaluación en términos de BS. En otras palabras, reducir las sensaciones no placenteras y potenciar aspectos positivos, como la capacidad para desarrollar recursos de afrontamiento, son acciones que están directamente asociadas con la práctica de mindfulness y son proclamadas por la Psicología Positiva. ...
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Objetivo principal: Reflexionar sobre la meditación mindfulness como posibili-dad de diálogo entre la Enfermería y la Psicología Positiva, enfocándose en la atención de la salud mental, con el respaldo de los efectos y las bases de mindfulness para comprender la forma de atención complementaria que es ajena a la medicaliza-ción y al modelo biomédico, y que está alineada con los supuestos de la Psicología Positiva. Metodología: Un estudio teórico de reflexión sobre meditación mindful-ness y la interfaz de las contribuciones de la Psicología Positiva. Resultados princi-pales: Mindfulness puede pensarse como un recurso para promover el bienestar y desarrollar estrategias que deriven en resultados más positivos en términos de salud mental. Conclusión principal: El campo de la Enfermería, imbuido de supuestos aportados por el diálogo con la Psicología Positiva, puede delinear intervenciones de salud mental que sirvan para el desarrollo de aspectos considerados esenciales para la salud y la atención. Palabras clave: Meditación. Atención plena. Salud mental. Mindfulness and Mental Health: Dialogs between Nursing and Positive Psychology Main objective: To reflect on mindfulness meditation as a possibility of dialog between Nursing and Positive Psychology, focusing on mental health care, supported by the effects and foundations of mindfulness to understand a form of complementary care that escapes medicalization and the biomedical model, and which aligns with the assumptions of Positive Psychology. Methodology: A reflection theoretical study on mindfulness meditation and the interface of the contributions from Positive Psychology. Main results: Mindfulness can be thought of as a resource for the promotion of well-being and for the development of strategies that lead to more positive outcomes in terms of mental health. Main conclusion: The field of Nursing, imbued with assumptions brought by the dialog with Positive Psychology , can outline mental health interventions that act in the development of aspects considered essential for health and care.
... life in people living in less densely populated regions (Fassio et al., 2013), social quality of life (better social relationships) (Knauth et al., 2006;Sandage & Jankowski, 2010), and psychological variables (Menezes & Bizarro, 2015). In addition, reductions of emotion dysregulation by brief meditation correlated with reductions of trait anxiety (Menezes, Pereira, Mocaiber, & Bizarro. 2016). ...
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The study examined whether trait anxiety mediated the relationships between family patterns (differentiation of self) and quality of life. 620 Israeli students, filled out differentiation of self (DoS), trait anxiety, and quality of life questionnaires. Trait anxiety mediated the relationships between DoS and quality of life dimensions. Findings extend our understanding of the role of differentiation of self for improving quality of life when dealing with the challenges of patients suffering from high levels of anxiety. It is strongly recommended that family therapists who wish to help reduce trait anxiety and enhance quality of life should relate to specific family and parenting patterns.
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Self-regulatory trainings can be an effective complementary treatment for mental health disorders. We investigated the effects of a six-week-focused meditation training on emotion and attention regulation in undergraduates randomly allocated to a meditation, a relaxation, or a wait-list control group. Assessment comprised a discrimination task that investigates the relationship between attentional load and emotional processing and self-report measures. For emotion regulation, results showed greater reduction in emotional interference in the low attentional load condition in meditators, particularly compared to relaxation. Only meditators presented a significant association between amount of weekly practice and the reduction in emotion interference in the task and significantly reduced image ratings of negative valence and arousal, perceived anxiety and difficulty during the task, and state and trait-anxiety. For attention regulation, response bias during the task was analyzed through signal detection theory. After training, meditation and relaxation significantly reduced bias in the high attentional load condition. Importantly, there was a dose-response effect on general bias: the lowest in meditation, increasing linearly across relaxation and wait-list. Only meditators reduced omissions in a concentrated attention test. Focused meditation seems to be an effective training for emotion and attention regulation and an alternative for treatments in the mental health context.
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More than 5 million deaths a year are attributable to tobacco smoking, but attempts to help people either quit or reduce their smoking often fail, perhaps in part because the intention to quit activates brain networks related to craving. We recruited participants interested in general stress reduction and randomly assigned them to meditation training or a relaxation training control. Among smokers, 2 wk of meditation training (5 h in total) produced a significant reduction in smoking of 60%; no reduction was found in the relaxation control. Resting-state brain scans showed increased activity for the meditation group in the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex, brain areas related to self-control. These results suggest that brief meditation training improves self-control capacity and reduces smoking.
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Mounting evidence suggests that the neural processing of emotional stimuli is prioritized. However, whether the processing of emotional stimuli is dependent on attention remains debatable. Several studies have investigated this issue by testing the capacity of emotional distracters to divert processing resources from an attentional main task. The attentional load theory postulates that the perceptual load of the main task determines the selective processing of the distracter. Although we agree with this theory, we also suggest that other factors could be important in determining the association between the load of the main task and distracter processing, namely, (1) the relevance of the to-be ignored stimuli and (2) the engagement in the main task due to motivation. We postulate that these factors function as opposite forces to influence distracter processing. In addition, we propose that this trade-off is modulated by individual differences. In summary, we suggest that the relationship between emotion and attention is flexible rather than rigid and depends on several factors. Considering this perspective may help us to understand the divergence in the results described by several studies in this field.
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Emotion regulation is the capacity to control the way in which people attend, perceive, process and react to emotional information. Practitioners of sitting and silent meditation develop a greater control of their mental processes, culminating in regulatory abilities that lead to well-being and emotional balance. In this paper we reviewed evidence from recent studies on neurophysiology and cognitive psychology on emotion regulation—focusing on negative emotions—and meditation in order to discuss their intertwining. This critical review showed that controlling attention and fostering a relaxation state are the main mechanisms for the interaction between emotion regulation and meditation. Importantly, it is suggested that the effects of meditation on emotion regulation should be conceptualized separately as those taking effect during the practice and those occurring as an outcome of such practice. Finally, it is highlighted that meditation should be conceived as a particular type of emotion regulation strategy, and that further studies comparing these strategies more directly are warranted.
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Threat-related attentional biases represent a basic survival mechanism. These biases include an engagement bias involving rapid direction of attention toward threat and a disengagement bias involving slow direction of attention away from threat. The exact nature of these biases in healthy and anxious individuals remains controversial because of the challenges associated with accurately isolating each of these attentional biases. Combining a cognitive attentional task with classical conditioning using electric stimulation, we created a new paradigm that makes it possible to more clearly isolate these attentional biases. Utilizing this novel paradigm, we detected both types of attentional bias and differentiated between levels of trait anxiety, in which low- and high-trait anxiety individuals showed equal levels of engagement bias, but only high-trait anxiety individuals showed impaired disengagement from threat. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is a part of the brain's limbic system. Classically, this region has been related to affect, on the basis of lesion studies in humans and in animals. In the late 1980s, neuroimaging research indicated that ACC was active in many studies of cognition. The findings from EEG studies of a focal area of negativity in scalp electrodes following an error response led to the idea that ACC might be the brain's error detection and correction device. In this article, these various findings are reviewed in relation to the idea that ACC is a part of a circuit involved in a form of attention that serves to regulate both cognitive and emotional processing. Neuroimaging studies showing that separate areas of ACC are involved in cognition and emotion are discussed and related to results showing that the error negativity is influenced by affect and motivation. In addition, the development of the emotional and cognitive roles of ACC are discussed, and how the success of this regulation in controlling responses might be correlated with cingulate size. Finally, some theories are considered about how the different subdivisions of ACC might interact with other cortical structures as a part of the circuits involved in the regulation of mental and emotional activity.
The beneficial clinical effects of mindfulness practices are receiving increasing support from empirical studies. However, the functional neural mechanisms underlying these benefits have not been thoroughly investigated. Some authors suggest that mindfulness should be described as a 'top-down' emotion regulation strategy, while others suggest that mindfulness should be described as a 'bottom-up' emotion regulation strategy. Current discrepancies might derive from the many different descriptions and applications of mindfulness. The present review aims to discuss current descriptions of mindfulness and the relationship existing between mindfulness practice and most commonly investigated emotion regulation strategies. Recent results from functional neuro-imaging studies investigating mindfulness training within the context of emotion regulation are presented. We suggest that mindfulness training is associated with 'top-down' emotion regulation in short-term practitioners and with 'bottom-up' emotion regulation in long-term practitioners. Limitations of current evidence and suggestions for future research on this topic are discussed.
A number of studies have demonstrated that short-term meditation intervention can lead to greater tolerance and lower pain or distress ratings of experimentally induced pain. However, few attempts have been made to examine the effects of short-term mindfulness-based intervention on the tolerance and distress of pain, when delivered in a therapist-free form. The present research explored the effect of brief mindfulness intervention using pre-recorded instruction on pain experimentally induced by the cold-pressor task. The effects of the mindfulness strategy, the distraction strategy and spontaneous strategy, all through the instructions of pre-recorded voices, were compared. The subjects were drawn from healthy college students and randomly assigned to the aforementioned three groups. Our results showed that compared with using spontaneous strategies, the mindfulness intervention significantly improved the participants' pain tolerance and reduced their immersion distress. The distraction strategy also significantly improved the participants' pain tolerance. However, it did not have a significant effect on the participants' level of distress during the immersion period. Our results suggest that brief mindfulness intervention without a therapist's personal involvement is capable of helping people cope with pain induced by the cold-pressor task. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
The overall goal of this chapter is to explore the initial findings of neuroscientific research on meditation; in doing so, the chapter also suggests potential avenues of further inquiry. It has three sections that, although integral to the chapter as a whole, may also be read independently. The first sec-tion, "Defining Meditation," notes the need for a more precise understanding of med-itation as a scientific explanandum. Argu-ing for the importance of distinguishing the particularities of various traditions, the sec-tion presents the theory of meditation from the paradigmatic perspective of Buddhism, and it discusses the difficulties encountered when working with such theories. The sec-tion includes an overview of three prac-tices that have been the subject of research, and it ends with a strategy for developing a questionnaire to define more precisely a practice under examination. The second sec-tion, "The Intersection of Neuroscience and Meditation," explores some scientific moti-vations for the neuroscientific examination of meditation in terms of its potential impact on the brain and body of long-term prac-titioners. After an overview of the mecha-nisms of mind-body interaction, this section addresses the use of first-person expertise, especially in relation to the potential for research on the neural counterpart of sub-jective experience. In general terms, the sec-tion thus points to the possible contributions of research on meditation to the neuro-science of consciousness. The final section, "Neuroelectric and Neuroimaging Correla-tes of Meditation," reviews the most relevant neuroelectric and neuroimaging findings of research conducted to date, including some preliminary correlates of the previously dis-cussed Buddhist practices.