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Emotional reactivity lessens with mindfulness, brain study shows

Posted 06.17.2016 | by AMRA


One advantage of being mindful is that it allows one to respond to situations with equanimity rather than reacting emotionally in a “knee-jerk” fashion. How does mindfulness help us to do this? According to one theory, mindfulness helps to extinguish our negative emotional reactions. It does this by increasing our exposure to the stimuli that provoke these reactions while helping us to maintain an open, nonjudgmental stance.

Uusberg et al. [Biological Psychology] tested this theory using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure the effects of repeatedly viewing negative and neutral images under both mindful and control conditions. They hypothesized that repeated viewing of emotionally-charged images while maintaining mindful awareness would cause a greater reduction in emotional reactions to the images than viewing them without mindfulness.

The researchers recruited 37 meditation-naive volunteers (84% female, average age=27). The participants were shown a series of 30 neutral and 30 negative images while an EEG recorded their late positive potentials (LPPs) in response to those images. LPPs are electrical brain waves that occur 260-1500 milliseconds after viewing a stimulus. They reflect ongoing emotional processing, with larger LPPs reflecting greater degrees of emotional processing. The mean difference in LPP amplitude between negative and neutral images served as a measure of emotional reactivity.

The negative stimuli featured images such as car accidents and brutal attacks, while the neutral stimuli were images of everyday scenes and objects such as hairdryers. Participants viewed subsets of these neutral and negative images under three different conditions: an “attentiveness” condition in which they focused on the visual details of the images; an open-monitoring “mindfulness” condition in which they viewed the images while also attending nonjudgmentally to thoughts, […]

June 17th, 2016|News|

Mindfulness traits protect women from stress hormone

Posted: 07.29.2014 | by AMRA


We know that stress, anxiety, and worry can take their tole on the body, in part through the activity of stress hormones such as cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal gland. If one is under stress or prone to worry and anxiety, can one’s level of mindfulness reduce the body’s responsiveness to it?

Daubenmier et al. [Psychoneuroendocrinology] explored the degree to which the ability to accept and describe stressful mental events (as measured by the Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills or KIMS) helped protect a cohort of 43 overweight/obese premenopausal women from stress-related increases in cortisol after waking up in the morning.

The women were administered standard measures of perceived stress, negative affect, anxiety, and rumination and had their cortisol awakening response (CAR) assessed over the course of four mornings — CAR is a measure of how steeply cortisol levels rise in one’s saliva during the first 30-45 minutes after awakening. It’s thought that CAR reflects the body’s response to thinking and ruminating about stress upon waking up.

All four measures of psychological distress were significantly positively associated with steeper CARs — the more anxious, worried, or unhappy the research participants were, the faster their waking cortisol levels rose. On the other hand, the participants’ abilities to mindfully describe and accept their negative thoughts and emotions were significantly negatively associated with CAR steepness — the more mindful they were, the less dramatic the rise in their cortisol.

The greater their ability to describe their thoughts and emotions, the greater their protection from the effects of anxiety and negative mood on cortisol. The greater their ability to accept their thoughts and emotions, the greater the […]

July 29th, 2014|News|

More needed beyond the present moment

Posted: 05.29.2014 | by AMRA


Present-moment awareness is usually considered a desirable mental state, but prior research using the Five Factor Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) has shown that the factor of observing present-moment experience is counterintuitively correlated with increased anxiety and inconsistently correlated with depression. Under what circumstances does the observation of present-moment experience improve well-being and under what circumstances does it exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety?

Desrosiers et al. [Journal of Affective Disorders] hypothesized that present-moment observation must be coupled with the factor of non-reactivity in order to optimize its benefits. Observation alone can trigger rumination and worry, resulting in elevated distress, but when coupled with non-reactivity, it provides a space that allows for subsequent higher-level cognitive reappraisal.

The authors tested whether non-reactivity moderates the after-effects of observing depressive and anxiety symptoms, i.e, whether it decreases subsequent rumination and worry and facilitates cognitive reappraisal. They administered the FFMQ along with self-report measures of mood, worry, rumination, and cognitive reappraisal to 189 adults with depressive and anxiety disorders, and conducted an analysis of the intercorrelations between those measures. Findings were largely supportive of a crucial role for non-reactivity.

Observing present-moment experience significantly increased depressive symptoms in those participants who had the lowest levels of non-reactivity, while higher levels of non-reactivity were correlated with significantly decreased observation-induced rumination and worry, and increased observation-related cognitive reappraisal. For participants with low levels of non-reactivity, high levels of observation led to increased worry and rumination, whereas greater observation was related to less rumination among participants with high levels of non-reactivity. Similarly, the greater their non-reactivity, the greater the odds that participants would make use of cognitive reappraisal.

Observing was positively correlated with worry for […]

May 29th, 2014|News|

MBCT impact on positive affect depends on genotype

Posted: 05.10.2014 | by AMRA


Are mindfulness-based interventions equally beneficial for everyone, or do some benefit more than others? If so, are their identifiable biological factors that play a significant role in determining who may benefit the most?

Bakker et al. [Translational Psychiatry] randomly assigned 126 participants with a past history of major depressive disorder but continuing residual symptoms to either an 8 week MBCT program or treatment-as-usual (TAU). Positive affect — the momentary experience of emotions such as happiness, cheerfulness, and satisfaction — was assessed prior to and after treatment by having participants rate their positive affect every time a special wristwatch beeped at unpredictable intervals over a six-day period.

Participants also submitted DNA samples which were assessed for single nucleotide polymorphisms — small variations in the DNA coding of genes that influence positive affect by modulating the brain’s dopamine, acetylcholine, and opioid receptor systems as well as the secretion of brain-derived neurogenic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports the growth and survival of neurons.

The authors had previously reported that MBCT significantly increased positive affect more than TAU in this cohort, but the purpose of this paper was to explore how genetics affected the participants’ ability to benefit from MBCT.

The researchers discovered that several genotypic variants had a significant impact on the degree to which MBCT increased the participants’ positive affect. Three of the genetic variants regulating opioid receptors and one variant regulating acetylcholine receptors significantly increased the degree to which MBCT increased positive affect.

On the other hand, there were variants of the genes controlling the dopamine receptors and the secretion of BDNF that decreased positive affect in the control group over time while leaving the MBCT […]

May 10th, 2014|News|

Brief Meditation Shifts Frontal Brain Asymmetry to Promote Mood Regulation

Posted from archive: 03.26.2013 | by AMRA


Keune et al. [Biological Psychology] studied the effects of mindfulness meditation on frontal EEG alpha wave asymmetry. It is generally held that relatively higher left frontal alpha power is associated with depression and avoidance motivation, whereas relatively higher right frontal alpha power is associated with approach motivation. While studies agree that mindfulness enhances relative right frontal alpha in healthy adults, the data for depressed adults is contradictory.

To clarify this, the authors measured frontal alpha asymmetry in 57 women with a history of recurrent depressive disorder. They recorded EEGs at baseline, after the induction of a sad mood, and after twenty minutes of either mindfulness meditation or a rumination challenge. In both the conditions, participants were told to focus on their breath, but one group received additional mindfulness instructions, while the other heard distracting instructions to ruminate, which they were told to try to ignore. Participants received no prior training in meditation.

In accord with previous studies, greater baseline left alpha power correlated with depressive symptoms, and greater baseline right alpha power correlated with positive mood. More importantly, mindfulness meditation shifted alpha activation toward the right and reduced negative affect, while there was no similar effect for the rumination challenge. The results support the theory that mindfulness shifts frontal asymmetry, promoting approach motivation and thereby facilitating mood regulation. The study was limited by nonrandom assignment to conditions.


Keune, P. M., Bostanov, V., Hautzinger, M., & Kotchoubey, B. (2013). Approaching dysphoric mood: State-effects of mindfulness meditation on frontal brain asymmetry. Biological Psychology, 93(1),105-13. [PMID: 23410762]

[Link to abstract]

December 29th, 2013|News|

Body Scan, Yoga, and Sitting Meditation Affect Immune Function in Older Adults

Posted from archive: 03.11.2013 | by AMRA


Gallegos et al. [Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine] performed new, more detailed analyses of the results of a prior, unpublished, study. That study of 100 older MBSR participants (ages 65+) showed an unexpected decrease in antibody response to an immune challenge when compared with a wait list control. Conversely, previous studies with younger adults showed that MBSR had improved their immunity.

The current study explored the relative contributions of separate MBSR components (yoga, sitting meditation, informal meditation, body scan, and perceived social support) to a variety of biological and psychological measures, including insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which is associated with increased longevity, an interleukin (IL-6) associated with inflammation, two antibodies (IgM and IgG) associated with immune response, and self-ratings of positive affect. The researchers provoked an immune response by injecting participants with keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH), a carrier protein used in vaccinations.

Yoga and sitting meditation both increased IGF-1 levels, while perceived social support lowered IL-6 levels. Yoga had a significant beneficial effect on positive affect. The body scan and yoga both contributed to the decreased antibody response to KLH immunization. Can MBSR impair immunity in older adults? More research is needed for it is possible, for example, that the observed antibody decrease was offset by increases in macrophages and lymphocytes.


Gallegos, A. M., Hoerger, M., Talbot, N. L., Krasner, M. S., Knight, J. M., Moynihan, J. A., & Duberstein, P. R. (2013). Toward identifying the effects of the specific components of mindfulness-based stress reduction on biologic and emotional outcomes among older adults. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(10), 787-92. [PMID: 23383976]

[Link to abstract]

December 28th, 2013|News|