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Post-chemo cancer survivors have less cognitive impairment after mindfulness training

Posted 08.26.2020 | by AMRA

Up to 78% of women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer report impairment in cognitive functioning, commonly referred to as “chemo fog.” These complaints are accompanied by functional connectivity changes in regions of the brain involved in attention and executive functioning. Functional connectivity is a measure of the degree to which different brain regions act in tandem. While the efficacy of mindfulness training for cancer-related emotional difficulties is supported, the effect on cognitive impairment remains unknown.

Gucht et al. [Cancer] tested mindfulness training against a wait-list control on cancer survivors’ subjective and objective cognitive impairment, psychological symptoms, and brain connectivity.

The researchers randomly assigned 33 Belgian female breast cancer survivors (average age = 45 years) with self-reported subjective cognitive impairment to either mindfulness training or a wait-list control. Mindfulness training was based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and delivered in four group-based sessions, each lasting three hours. Home practice was encouraged and brief between-session telephone calls for encouragement and support were offered over an 8-week period.

Participants were assessed at baseline, one week after the intervention, and at 3 months after on a subjective measure of cognitive functioning and an objective battery of attention, concentration, memory, executive functioning, and processing speed. Other subjective measures were used to assess emotional distress, fatigue, and mindfulness (Comprehensive Inventory of Mindfulness Experiences).

Participants also underwent resting-state fMRI brain scans at all three assessment points. Six mindfulness participants and one control did not complete the study.

Results showed the mindfulness training group had significantly greater improvement in subjective cognitive impairment at post-treatment (Hedge’s g=0.99) and follow-up (g=0.95) than controls. The mindfulness group also had significantly greater decreases in […]

August 26th, 2020|News|

Mindful acceptance calms negative emotion and amygdala activity

Posted 03.17.2020 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-based interventions can alleviate pain and suffering in some individuals, but there are important questions about its mechanism of action. Mindfulness might work “top down” by helping us to think differently about the significance of our unpleasant experiences. Alternatively, it might work “bottom up” by preventing us from experiencing the unpleasantness of negative stimuli in the first place. Moreover, it is unclear whether formal meditation practice is essential in order for mindfulness to reduce suffering, or whether learning to adopt a nonjudgmental attitude might, in and of itself, be sufficient.

Kober et al. [Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience] sought to clarify how an attitude of mindful acceptance affects emotional and brain responses to unpleasant and painful stimuli. Study participants acted as their own controls, at times instructed to respond to sets of negative stimuli as they naturally would, and at times instructed to respond with mindful acceptance.

The researchers recruited a sample of 17 meditation naïve adults (71% male; average age = 32). Participants were presented with a series of unpleasant and neutral images on a computer screen, and researchers also applied a series of warm or painful heat stimuli to participants’ forearms. Participants were instructed on some stimulus trials to react as they naturally would in their daily life, and instructed on other stimulus trials to adopt an attitude of “accepting experience as it is” without judgment.

Instruction in mindful acceptance was brief, and participants articulated what they were doing on practice trials to assure their understanding of the instructions provided. Participants rated their emotional negativity on an eight-point scale after each stimulus presentation.

Brain activity was recorded by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) throughout […]

March 17th, 2020|News|

Cognitively impaired older adults improve memory with mindfulness

Posted 01.22.2020 | by AMRA

A diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) represents a degree of cognitive decline greater than what one might expect from normal aging but not severe enough to call for a diagnosis of dementia. While older adults with MCI show mild memory and word-finding difficulties, they remain capable of independent living. Nevertheless, they are at an increased risk for developing dementia, and clinicians are interested in developing ways to delay or prevent the onset or progression of dementia. MCI symptoms are often accompanied by decreased structural and functional brain connectivity, as diverse regions of the brain show greater difficulty in cross-communicating information and coordinating activity.

Prior research suggests that mindfulness practice enhances aspects of structural and functional brain connectivity in healthy adults. Fam et al. [Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences] examined whether mindfulness practice can also improve dynamic functional connectivity (changing patterns of functional connectivity over time) in older adults with MCI.

The researchers randomly assigned 47 meditation-naïve older adults (average age = 72 years; 72% female; 97% Chinese) diagnosed with MCI to a mindfulness awareness program or an active control. Mindfulness participants attended a series 12 weekly 40-minute group mindfulness training sessions and were encouraged to engage in daily home practice.

Control group participants attended a series of 12 weekly 40-minute talks on health-related topics including diet, sleep, exercise, and personal safety. Four mindfulness participants and 7 controls failed to complete the study, leaving a final analytic sample of 36 participants.

All participants underwent resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at baseline and three months later. Measures of the efficiency of brain information transmission were calculated. Higher efficiency is indicative of a shorter transmission time between disparate […]

January 22nd, 2020|News|

MBSR supports less stress and fear extinction via hippocampus

Posted 07.23.2019 | by AMRA

Overcoming irrational fears involves recognizing when stimuli previously associated with danger have ceased their association with that danger. This means “extinguishing” a learned connection between a stimulus and its previously feared negative consequences.

Mindfulness can help with fear extinction by enabling individuals to approach previously feared stimuli with an attitude of non-reactive acceptance. Sevinc et al. [Biological Psychiatry] studied whether a mindfulness-based intervention affects the brain activity underlying the fear extinction process.

The researchers assigned 94 meditation-naive adults (average age = 32 years; 64% female) to either an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program or an 8-week exercise-based stress management education program. Stress education consisted of 8 weekly 2 hour group sessions that included 40 minutes of light aerobic exercise and didactic presentations on coping with stress through exercise, nutrition, humor, and sleep hygiene.

Two weeks before and after intervention, participants underwent a two-day classical fear conditioning and fear extinction paradigm while being monitored by brain imaging (fMRI).

In the fear conditioning paradigm, participants were presented with images of rooms with either red, blue, or yellow lights. An annoying electric shock immediately followed the images of the rooms with the red or blue lights, but not the yellow lights. Fear was considered “conditioned” to the red or blue lights when exposure to those images led to an increase in skin conductance.

After the conditioned skin conductance response (SCR) was acquired, participants were then repeatedly exposed to the image with the red light without a consequent shock in order to extinguish the skin conductance response to that image while maintaining the conditioned skin conductance response to the blue light.

The next day, participant SCRs to the images were reassessed […]

July 23rd, 2019|News|

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|

Mindful people less distressed after social rejection, brain activity shows

Posted 07.26.2018 | by AMRA

Social rejection can be hurtful, but people differ in how distressed they become following rejection. People also vary in the strategies they use to reduce distress.

Some people subdue feelings of distress by employing a “top-down” strategy in which cognitive-related brain centers suppress the activity of emotion-related brain centers. This “top-down” strategy is taxing on cognitive resources, and if those resources become depleted, feelings of distress can re-emerge.

Other people employ “bottom-up” strategies such as mindfulness of negative emotions that do not require suppression by cognitive-related brain centers.

Martelli et al. [Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience] studied whether highly mindful people feel less distress when socially rejected, and examined whether cognitive- and emotion-related brain responses to rejection varied according to levels of mindfulness.

The researchers assessed dispositional mindfulness levels among 40 participants (54% male, average age = 19 years) using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale. Participants then played a computerized Cyberball game while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Cyberball involves a pair of computer-generated characters playing virtual catch with the participant. Participants are misled into believing the computer-generated characters are avatars for real people playing the game. Initially, the computer-generated characters toss the ball between themselves and the participant equally, but in the final minute of play, they toss the ball only between themselves, effectively excluding the participant from the social interaction.

Approximately an hour after the game, participants completed a questionnaire measuring their level of social distress. Participants also completed a manipulation check that showed they believed they were playing Cyberball with live co-participants.

The neurobiology of distress and its suppression is complicated. Feelings of distress are associated with increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), […]

July 26th, 2018|News|

Mindful people transition more frequently between brain states

Posted 06.21.2018 | by AMRA

Mindful people have the generalized tendency to be aware of the present moment with an attitude of openness in day-to-day life. Researchers are interested in discovering whether mindful people exhibit a unique pattern of brain activity.

Lim et al. [NeuroImage] used brain imaging to explore the dynamic functional connectivity within and between brain networks of people with high versus low mindfulness levels. Functional connectivity is a measure of the degree to which different brain regions vary their activity together in synchrony. The researchers measured how the functional connections between different brain networks varied over time.

The researchers selected participants from a pool of 125 people who had previously completed a breath-counting task. For this task, participants counted their breaths from 1 to 9 repeatedly for twenty minutes while the researchers tracked how often they lost count. Participants who performed in the top third on this task were identified as highly mindful, while those in the lower third were designated as less mindful.

The high and low mindfulness participants were then invited back to the lab for functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scans while in a resting state. Data were obtained for 21 high (average age=24 years; 38% male) and 18 low mindfulness participants (average age = 22 years; 28% male). Participants also completed the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, or FFMQ. The researchers studied three fMRI scan variables: the total time spent in different brain states, the number of transitions between states, and the average dwell time within each state.

There are two types of brain connectivity: within- and between-network connectivity. Within-network connectivity is the degree to which the components of a network synchronize their activity, while between-network […]

June 21st, 2018|News|

MBSR and relaxation both reduce stress, but brain activity differs

Posted 05.17.2018 | by AMRA

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Relaxation Response (RR) training are both well-established mind-body interventions designed to reduce stress. While there is some overlap between these modalities—both involve meditative attention to bodily sensations—there are also significant differences. MBSR emphasizes non-judgmental awareness to increase acceptance of the present moment, while RR employs muscle relaxation to induce a parasympathetic state that interferes with the fight-or-flight response.

To understand the ways in which these two programs function, Sevinc et al. [Psychosomatic Medicine] tested for commonalties and differences in terms of psychological effects and brain correlates.

The researchers randomly assigned 50 volunteers (64% female, average age = 38 years) to either MBSR or RR with 40 of the volunteers completing the programs. Both programs involved 8 weekly 2-hour group sessions with 20 minutes of daily home practice. RR included a body scan meditation emphasizing muscle relaxation along with breath-focused and mantra-focused meditations.

Participants were assessed at baseline and after the intervention on self-report measures of mindfulness (using the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire or FFMQ), perceived stress, self-compassion, and rumination.

After the intervention, participants underwent fMRI brain scanning while at rest and while engaging in the body scan meditation specific to each program: the RR body scan emphasized relaxing various muscle groups, whereas the MBSR body scan emphasized mindful awareness of body sensations.

The researchers were interested in exploring changes in functional connectivity in specific brain regions of interest. Brain regions exhibiting simultaneous increases and decreases in activity are said to be functionally connected. Usable fMRI data was obtained from 34 participants.

The results showed that both programs significantly reduced perceived stress (RR Cohen’s d=0.5; MBSR d=1.0). After the intervention, RR participants showed significant […]

May 24th, 2018|News|

Mindful children have more brain flexibility, imaging study shows

Posted 10.27.2017 | by AMRA

Meditation involves the processes of focusing attention, recognizing when the mind has wandered off, and re-establishing focus. Neuropsychologists tell us these processes are associated with three large-scale brain networks: a Default Mode Network (DMN) associated with mind-wandering, a Salience and Emotion Network (SEN) associated with present-centered awareness, and a Central Executive Network (CEN) that helps shift, restore, and maintain focus. When two or more networks change activity in a coordinated manner, they are said to be functionally connected.

Positive functional connectivity occurs when two networks increase or decrease activity in tandem. Negative functional connectivity occurs when increased activity in one network is matched by decreased activity in the other. The degree of functional connectivity between networks is usually averaged over time to yield a single measure. The problem with averaged measures is that they give the illusion that the functional connectivity between networks is static, when in fact, it is ever-changing and dynamic.

Marusak et al. [Behavioral Brain Research] studied both the average and the dynamic functional connectivity between these brain networks in children, as well as how these networks are related to childrens’ self-reported levels of mindfulness and mental health symptoms.

The researchers recruited an economically and racially diverse cohort of 42 children and adolescents (55% female, average age =10 years, age range = 6-17 years). Many of the children were at economic disadvantage and/or at risk for exposure to violence, abuse, and intensive medical treatment.

The participants completed self-report measures of mindfulness (using the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure), anxiety and depression. The majority of participants (65%) exceeded the thresholds on these measures for pathological levels of anxiety and/or depression.

All participants underwent functional magnetic […]

October 27th, 2017|News|

Brain regions connect after mindfulness training

Posted 04.25.2017 | by AMRA

Mindfulness training has been shown to improve performance on behavioral measures of executive control including attention, working memory, emotional and cognitive control, and decision making. Research also suggests that a brain region known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) plays an important role in executive control, serving as the hub of an executive control brain network. The dlPFC has rich anatomical connections to other brain regions that are also thought to be involved in executive control. Does mindfulness training assist executive control by improving the way the dlPFC interrelates with these other brain regions?

One way to test this is by assessing resting state functional connectivity between the dlPFC and other brain regions. Resting state functional connectivity is a measure of how much different brain regions work in tandem. For example, when one region increases activity, other brain regions act in sync with it.

Taren et al. [Psychosomatic Medicine] tested whether mindfulness training increases the functional connectivity between the dlPFC and other executive control brain regions by comparing functional connectivity after either mindfulness training or relaxation training in a randomized, controlled study.

The researchers randomly assigned 35 unemployed, job-seeking adults (average age = 40; 57% male; 66% Caucasian) who reported high levels of stress to either an intensive 3-day residential mindfulness training, or an intensive 3-day residential relaxation training. Mindfulness training was a condensed version of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that included body scanning, sitting, walking, and eating meditations, and mindful yoga. Relaxation training included resting while walking and stretching and didactic presentations, but did not include progressive muscle relaxation.

All participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) both at baseline and two weeks after training. The […]

April 25th, 2017|News|