Member Login »

Fewer learning errors after mindfulness training, brain’s hippocampus involved

Posted 04.17.2018 | by AMRA

Previous learning sometimes interferes with our ability to learn new things. For example, when we memorize one poem and then another, we may mistakenly include words from the first poem when reciting the second. This problem is called proactive interference (PI). People may be able to reduce PI by focusing on the present while screening out competing thoughts and memories—in other words, by mindfulness.

Previous research suggests that reduced PI depends on activation of a brain structure known as the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays an important role in learning and memory, and helps us distinguish old learning from new. Prior research shows that mindfulness training can increase the size of the hippocampus. Greenberg et al. [Brain Imaging and Behavior] investigated whether mindfulness training reduces PI, and whether that reduction is associated with increases in hippocampal size.

The researchers randomly assigned 79 participants (70% female; average age = 27 years; 65% Caucasian) to a 4-week mindfulness-training program or a 4-week creative writing program. Of those, 67 participants were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) before and after training to assess hippocampal volume.

Both the mindfulness and creative writing programs were offered in four 1-hour group sessions using a web-based technology that enabled participants to see and communicate with instructors and fellow participants. The mindfulness program offered training in focused-attention and open monitoring meditation. Participants were asked to practice learned mindfulness skills on their own for 30 minutes five times a week. The creative writing participants wrote short essays in response to photos or texts, and were asked to write on their own for 30 minutes five times a week.

PI was assessed before and after training by […]

April 17th, 2018|News|

Depressive symptoms reduced in COPD patients after MBCT

Posted 03.21.2018 | by AMRA

Chronic Obstructive Respiratory Disease (COPD) is an incurable progressive inflammatory lung disease that restricts airway flow and causes shortness of breath, wheezing, excessive mucus production, and coughing. The disease afflicts 16 million Americans and 65 million people worldwide. Treatment commonly includes smoking cessation, exercise, bronchodilator inhalers, anti-inflammatory medications, and supplementary oxygen. About one third of COPD patients report symptoms of anxiety and/or depression that are linked to poorer health and quality of life outcomes.

Farver-Vestergaard et al. [European Respiratory Journal] investigated whether Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) could provide additional psychological, health, and quality of life benefits when provided in conjunction with standard pulmonary rehabilitation (PR).

The researchers randomly assigned 84 Danish COPD patients (average age = 67 years; 57% female) to PR alone or PR plus MBCT. PR was delivered in 2 weekly sessions over an 8-week period and consisted of exercise in combination with disease and lifestyle education.

The add-on MBCT program consisted of 8 weekly 105-minute group sessions. MBCT meditations were modified to focus on the sensations of heartbeat, blood flow, and contact of the feet with the floor rather than on the breath. Meditations were shortened, cognitive exercises simplified, and the full-day retreat eliminated.

Participants were assessed on anxiety, depression, COPD health status impairment, mindfulness (the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire), self-compassion, COPD self-efficacy, and breathlessness-related catastrophizing at five time points: before treatment, mid-treatment, after treatment, and at 3- and 6-month follow-up.

Pre- and post-treatment measures were taken of activity level (using an accelerometer, a Fitbit-like device for measuring movement), and pre- and post-treatment blood samples were drawn to measure blood inflammatory factors including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and a variety of interleukins (IL-6, […]

March 21st, 2018|News|

MBSR changes brain networks of opiate dependent patients

Posted 03.14.2018 | by AMRA

The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, with over 42,000 opioid overdose related deaths in 2016. There is a clear need for innovative approaches to help deal with the problems of substance dependency and misuse. Mindfulness-based interventions are sometimes used as adjunctive treatments for substance use disorders, but little is known about how these interventions affect the brains of substance users.

Fahmy et al. [Addictive Behaviors] used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate brain changes in opiate dependent patients undergoing either treatment-as-usual (TAU), or treatment-as-usual plus Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

MRI data were analyzed to identify structural changes in the cellular networks connecting brain regions. The researchers limited their investigation to regions previously shown to be of interest in addiction and mindfulness research. They also looked at whether structural brain network changes were accompanied by meaningful changes in personality traits relevant to recovery and relapse.

The study followed 28 opiate dependent patients (average age = 30 years; 89% male) in a four-week inpatient substance treatment program in Cairo, Egypt. Half the participants were assigned to treatment as usual (TAU) and half to MBSR. Assignment was based on order of enrollment in the study and was not strictly random.

Nineteen participants completed their treatments and post-treatment evaluations. There was no difference in treatment dropout rates. TAU included medication and group cognitive behavioral therapy. The MBSR program was a culturally adopted Arabic-language version of MBSR. Participants completed the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI), self-reported measures of distress tolerance, sensation seeking, impulsivity, and addiction severity, and underwent MRI scanning before and after treatment.

MBSR participants showed significant strengthening in the brain networks connecting the prefrontal cortex […]

March 14th, 2018|News|

High schoolers practicing mindfulness have less emotional habituation, brain study shows

Posted 02.23.2018 | by AMRA

Event-related potentials (ERPs) are segments of brain waves occurring in response to stimuli. For example, when people with depression are shown happy faces, the amplitude of their ERPs 300 milliseconds later (the so-called “P3b” ERP) is smaller than in non-depressed people. Since mindfulness encourages openness to emotions, mindfulness may enhance P3b responding to emotional stimuli and perhaps play a role in reducing or preventing depressive symptoms.

In a pioneering study of adolescent brain function and school mindfulness programs, Sanger el al. [Developmental Science] tested whether a high school mindfulness-training program could affect the size of healthy students’ P3b responses to happy and sad faces, and whether it improved their wellbeing relative to a control group.

The researchers assigned 40 students (16-18 years old) to mindfulness training or a waitlist control. Assignment was not random. Volunteers from two secondary schools were assigned to mindfulness training, and volunteers from two other secondary schools were assigned to the waitlist control. Control volunteers were slightly older and more likely to be male.

Participants completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) along with measures of stress, wellbeing, and empathy, both before and after training. Schoolteachers taught the mindfulness practices in eight 50-minute classes. Curriculum topics included “Taming the Animal Mind, “Being Here and Now,” “Moving Mindfully,” and “Befriending the Difficult.”

Before and after training, students were shown pictures of faces with varying expressions while an EEG measured their P3bs. Most of the faces shown were neutral, but 20% were happy or sad. Participants were instructed to press a space bar whenever they saw a happy or sad face.

Mindfulness levels did not increase over time, nor did they differ between the mindfulness […]

February 23rd, 2018|News|

Multiple studies find mindfulness increases prosocial behavior

Posted 02.15.2018 | by AMRA

While people generally regard helpfulness and friendliness to be virtues, they often fail to extend their empathy to strangers in need. Berry et al. [Journal of Experimental Psychology] conducted a series of four experiments to see whether mindfulness—as an individual’s disposition and as an induced mental state—increases prosocial behavior towards an excluded stranger by increasing empathic concern.

In the first study, 82 undergraduates (52% female, 58% Caucasian) completed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Act with Awareness subscale of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ). Participants then watched a Cyberball computer game involving three computer-generated characters playing catch. Participants were misled into believing that the computer-generated characters represented three live participants playing the game in other rooms. During the observed game, two characters excluded the third character by passing the ball only between themselves.

After watching the game, participants were assessed for empathic concern and distress, and asked to write emails to each of the players. Empathic concern is the desire to help others, whereas empathic distress often leads to focusing on relieving one’s own distress rather than helping others. Participants then played a game of Cyberball together with the other characters. The researchers rated the helpfulness of the emails written to the excluded character, and counted how often the participant threw the ball to the excluded character.

The study found that higher mindfulness was significantly associated with higher empathic concern (but not empathic distress), more helpful emails, and a greater number of ball throws to the excluded character.

In the second study, 83 undergraduates (68% female, 44% Caucasian) completed the same personality measures and followed the same Cyberball protocol as in the first […]

February 15th, 2018|News|

MBCT and cognitive therapy equally effective for depression relapse

Posted 01.24.2018 | by AMRA

One of the biggest difficulties in treating recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD) is that most people with recurrent MDD experience a relapse within two years following recovery from symptoms. Three treatments appear to have some success at limiting the two-year relapse rate to 30-40%: Antidepressant Medication Maintenance Therapy, Cognitive Therapy (CT), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

MBCT and CT attempt to reduce the risk of relapse by promoting different skill sets. CT promotes challenging dysfunctional thinking and increasing physical activity level. MBCT promotes nonjudgmental monitoring of moment-by-moment experience, and decentering from thoughts or seeing thoughts as transient mental phenomena and not necessarily valid.

Farb et al. [Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology] conducted the first randomized controlled head-to-head comparison of CT and MBCT for relapse prevention in MDD.

The researchers randomly assigned 166 people with MDD (average age = 40 years, 2/3 female; average of 4 past MDD episodes) currently in remission to either a MBCT or CT group.

Assessments of diagnosis and symptoms were done through a combined structured clinical interview and a self-report questionnaire. MDD symptoms were assessed bimonthly through an initial brief questionnaire. If the initial questionnaire suggested relapse, it was followed-up with another questionnaire and a structured clinical phone interview. A research psychiatrist confirmed all relapse diagnoses. In addition, participants completed questionnaires measuring decentering and dysfunctional beliefs every three months.

CT was delivered in 8 weekly 2-hour sessions that stressed goal setting, self-monitoring, maintaining thought records, and cognitive restructuring during its initial sessions, and lifestyle modification, environmental mastery, life purpose, self-acceptance, and optimizing interpersonal relationships in later sessions.

MBCT was delivered in 8 weekly 2-hour sessions with an additional retreat day. It emphasized mindfulness […]

January 24th, 2018|News|

College students show less exam distress after mindfulness program

Posted 01.16.2018 | by AMRA

College life is accompanied by many stresses, but few exceed the stress of final exams week—a period of intensive “cramming,” all night study sessions, and fearful anticipation of final grades. It comes as no surprise that approximately half of all college students report a significant degree of test anxiety.

Galante et al. [Lancet Public Health] studied whether an eight-week mindfulness skills program might reduce students’ acute exam-related distress levels during final exams week.

The researchers randomly assigned 616 undergraduate and graduate students at Cambridge College, UK (62% female; 66% White; 92% age 17-30 years) to either an 8-week Mindfulness Skills for Students (MSS) program, or mental health support-as-usual group. Participants were prescreened to rule out severe mental health symptoms.

The MSS program consisted of eight 75-90 minute group sessions that included mindfulness meditation, periods of reflection and inquiry, and interactive exercises. MSS participants were encouraged to engage in 8-25 minutes of home practice daily.

Mental health support-as-usual consisted of access-as-needed to university counseling services and the National Health Service. No mental health services were offered to the support-as-usual group participants unless they actively sought help from these services on their own.

All participants were asked to complete a self-report distress measure and a wellness measure at post-intervention and again during final exams week. Following the completion of outcome measures, participants were offered monetary vouchers ($4.50 at post-intervention and $7.50 during exams week) that they could either pocket or contribute to charity. If MSS participants missed a session, they were contacted to discover whether they experienced any adverse consequences from participation in the intervention.

Fifty-one percent (51%) of MSS participants attended at least half of the MSS sessions, and […]

January 16th, 2018|News|

Mindfulness in the workplace: Less hostility, more true emotions

Posted 12.26.2017 | by AMRA

When workplace conflicts boil over into outright expressions of hostility, employees may feel harmed and mistreated and workplace functioning is disrupted. Liang et al. [Journal of Applied Psychology] conducted a series of four studies to test if mindfulness plays a role in decreasing hostile and aggressive behavior in places of employment.

The first three studies examined whether mindful awareness and acceptance can weaken the link between feelings of hostility and the overt expression of those feelings. The fourth study explored the ways in which mindfulness might accomplish this.

The first three studies used employees from Amazon MTurk (average age = 36-39 years; 44%-48% male), a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace, as participants. The fourth study drew employees (average age = 37 years; 49% male) from a larger employee database.

In the first study, 101 employees visualized and described a past negative incident with their supervisor. Participants were then randomly assigned to either a mindful awareness, mindful acceptance, or mind wandering condition. In each condition, participants read flashcard statements designed to elicit one of these mental states. The cards included statements like “consciously attend to your breath for a few seconds” or “let your mind wander to whichever thought it wants.”

Afterwards, participants were presented with a voodoo doll representing their supervisor and asked how many pins they would like to stick in it. The flashcards participants read affected how many pins they chose to use (partial η2=.07). The mindful awareness group used significantly fewer (6 pins) than the mind-wandering group (15 pins). The mindful acceptance group (8 pins), however, didn’t differ significantly from the mind-wandering group.

In the second study, 342 employees completed the Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale […]

December 26th, 2017|News|

Young adults show less aggression after using meditation app

Posted 12.19.2017 | by AMRA

Mindfulness may improve not only the way we feel inside, but also the way we behave towards others. Researchers are interested in whether mindfulness can decrease aggression either by transforming hostile feelings, or altering the way people respond to them.

Desteno et al. [Mindfulness] conducted a randomized controlled study of whether mindfulness training can reduce feelings of anger and/or overt aggression better than a control intervention.

The researchers randomly assigned 77 meditation-naive college students (age range =18-24 years) to either a mindfulness meditation training or a control intervention. Each intervention consisted of twenty-one brief (approximately 15 minutes long) practice sessions over the course of 3 weeks.

Meditation participants engaged in guided breath, body, and mind-focused meditations that included monitoring mind-wandering and adopting a non-judgmental attitude. Training sessions were delivered via the Headspace smartphone app.

Control participants logged onto a website each day to solve word and geometric puzzles, analogies, and similar problems. Attrition was equally high in both groups, and only data from 46 participants were included in the analyses.

Following training, participants were invited into the laboratory for “cognitive” testing. After completing a Stroop task measuring cognitive executive function, participants were introduced via videoconferencing to a person they thought was a fellow research participant. They were then asked to compose a two-minute speech on their life goals and deliver it to their video-conferenced peer. Afterwards, they were presented with what was said to be their peer’s written evaluation of their performance.

Their “peer” was not a fellow participant, but a previously videotaped research confederate, and the “feedback” they received evaluated their speeches as “boring” and “a complete waste.” Participants then rated their emotions and were offered an […]

December 19th, 2017|News|

Two weeks of mindfulness training changes brain waves of depression

Posted 11.28.2017 | by AMRA

Are there biological markers for depression that continue to exist even when the depressive symptoms go away? One possible candidate for such a marker is an electroencephalographic (EEG) waveform called error related negativity (ERN).

ERN is a sharp negative wave that occurs whenever people make a mistake while performing a task. The waveform begins at the start of the error and peaks shortly thereafter. ERNs occur even when people are not consciously aware of having made a mistake.

In healthy individuals, larger ERNs are associated with better executive and attentional control and enhanced self-regulation. People with depression, however, typically have smaller ERNs. When their depressive symptoms improve with treatment, their ERNs continue to be smaller than those of healthy individuals. This raises the possibility that smaller ERNs reflect an underlying biological vulnerability to depression.

Fissler et al. [Cognitive and Affective Behavioral Neuroscience] sought to discover whether brief mindfulness training could help improve ERNs in people with chronic depression.

The researchers recruited a sample of 68 patients (average age = 39 years; 61% female) with histories of chronic or recurring major depression who were currently depressed. They also recruited a comparison sample of 25 healthy controls.

Participants had their EEGs recorded while performing a sustained attention task. A series of digits were displayed individually on a computer screen and participants were told to push the keyboard space bar whenever they saw the digits “0” through “2” and “4” through “9,” but to withhold responding whenever they saw a “3.” The researchers then recorded the total number of errors made to the number “3” and the average ERN magnitude when those errors were made.

Following the initial assessment, members of […]

November 28th, 2017|News|