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Brain connectivity differs for short- and long-term meditators

Posted 08.28.2018 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-based interventions can enhance emotional regulation and improve mood, but we are only just beginning to understand the brain mechanisms responsible for these benefits. Kral et al. [Neuroimage] compared the brain activity of long-term meditators, short-term meditators, and non-meditators in response to emotionally positive, negative, and neutral images. The researchers sought to discover whether or not the amount of an individual’s meditation practice correlated with their response to emotional stimuli.

The researchers recruited a sample of 31 long-term Vipassana mediators (average age = 50 years, 55% female, average meditation practice = 9,000 hours) and compared them to a sample of 127 meditation-naive recruits. Following initial data collection, 86 of the meditation-naïve recruits (average age = 48, 63% female) were randomly assigned to a standard 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or a Health Enhancement program (HEP) which served as a time-and-attention control.

The long-term mediators and the meditation-naive participants spent a day in the laboratory prior to the meditation-naive group’s random assignment to intervention. Following intervention, the meditation-naive group returned to the laboratory for re-assessment.

In the laboratory, participants were shown emotionally positive, negative, and neutral images while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a procedure that measures metabolic activity in different regions of the brain. The researchers measured fMRI activity in two specific brain regions: the amygdala, which plays a role in generating emotion, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), which plays a role in regulating emotion. Participants also completed a self-report measure of mindfulness, the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ).

Results from the pre-intervention data showed that meditation-naive participants had significantly greater right amygdala activity in response to positive images than long-term meditators. While […]

August 28th, 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|

Emotional reactivity lessens with mindfulness, brain study shows

Posted 06.17.2016 | by AMRA

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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|

SMART mindfulness program reduces teacher occupational stress up to four months

Posted 08.17.2015 | by AMRA

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The high emotional demands of public school teaching can contribute to impaired teacher morale and professional burnout. Given the stressful nature of the profession, it’s no small wonder that 40-50% of teachers quit teaching within their first five years on the job. Prior research supports the efficacy of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in improving teacher well-being and reducing burnout, but what are the psychological and interpersonal processes underlying their effectiveness?

In a randomized, controlled trial, Taylor et al. [Mindfulness] tested how a MBI affected teachers’ emotional regulation, forgiveness, and compassion, and how changes in these domains contributed to stress reduction.

The researchers randomly assigned a predominantly female cohort of 59 Canadian elementary and secondary school teachers to either a Stress Management and Relaxation Training (SMART) program or a wait-list control. The 9-week SMART program shared components with MBSR (the body scan, sitting, walking, movement and eating meditations) and included specific training in emotional regulation, forgiveness and loving-kindness. Participants completed self-report measures before and after training and at four-month follow-up. Participants were also interviewed after the SMART program about job stress and attitudes towards challenging students and colleagues.

The teachers found the SMART program “quite helpful,” stating they derived a “moderate” to a “great deal” of benefit from it. At the end of training, SMART program teachers showed significant and large (Cohen’s d =.90) declines in occupational stress compared to controls, a difference that remained marginally significant at four month follow-up.

In post-training interviews, SMART participants used significantly fewer negative emotional words than controls when discussing work stressors, and used significantly more positive emotional words than controls when describing challenging students. SMART participants also showed significant and […]

August 17th, 2015|News|