Friday, February 24, 2012

Two Recent Studies on the Neuroscience of Mindfulness

Both of these studies appeared in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal's most recent issue - online and open access. The first study looks at how mindfulness, each brief sessions, can improve attentional control. The second study looks at how mindfulness practice improves the recall of positively-associated memories, with a corresponding decrease in depression and anxiety.

Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control

  • 1School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
  • 2Institute of Experimental Psychology I, University of Osnabrück, Osnabrück, Germany
Mindfulness-based meditation practices involve various attentional skills, including the ability to sustain and focus ones attention. During a simple mindful breathing practice, sustained attention is required to maintain focus on the breath while cognitive control is required to detect mind wandering. We thus hypothesized that regular, brief mindfulness training would result in improvements in the self-regulation of attention and foster changes in neuronal activity related to attentional control. A longitudinal randomized control group EEG study was conducted. At baseline (T1), 40 meditation naïve participants were randomized into a wait list group and a meditation group, who received three hours mindfulness meditation training. Twenty-eight participants remained in the final analysis. At T1, after eight weeks (T2) and after 16 weeks (T3), all participants performed a computerized Stroop task (a measure of attentional control) while the 64-channel EEG was recorded. Between T1 and T3 the meditators were requested to meditate daily for 10 min. Event-related potential (ERP) analysis highlighted two between group effects that developed over the course of the 16-week mindfulness training. An early effect at left and right posterior sites 160–240 ms post-stimulus indicated that meditation practice improved the focusing of attentional resources. A second effect at central posterior sites 310–380 ms post-stimulus reflects that meditation practice reduced the recruitment of resources during object recognition processes, especially for incongruent stimuli. Scalp topographies and source analyses (Variable Resolution Electromagnetic Tomography, VARETA) indicate relevant changes in neural sources, pertaining to left medial and lateral occipitotemporal areas for the early effect and right lateral occipitotemporal and inferior temporal areas for the later effect. The results suggest that mindfulness meditation may alter the efficiency of allocating cognitive resources, leading to improved self-regulation of attention.

Citation: Moore A, Gruber T, Derose J and Malinowski P. (2012) Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysiological markers of attentional control. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience; 6:18. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00018

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Mindfulness training alters emotional memory recall compared to active controls: support for an emotional information processing model of mindfulness

Douglas Roberts-Wolfe1,2,3, Matthew Sacchet1,2,4, Elizabeth Hastings1,5, Harold Roth1,6,7 and Willoughby Britton1,2*
  • 1 Contemplative Studies Initiative, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 2 Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University Medical School, Providence, RI, USA
  • 3 Medical Scientist Training Program, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
  • 4 Neurosciences PhD Program, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA
  • 5 Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 6 Department of Religious Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 7 Department of East Asian Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
Objectives: While mindfulness-based interventions have received widespread application in both clinical and non-clinical populations, the mechanism by which mindfulness meditation improves well-being remains elusive. One possibility is that mindfulness training alters the processing of emotional information, similar to prevailing cognitive models of depression and anxiety. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of mindfulness training on emotional information processing (i.e., memory) biases in relation to both clinical symptomatology and well-being in comparison to active control conditions. Methods: Fifty-eight university students (28 female, age = 20.1 ± 2.7 years) participated in either a 12-week course containing a “meditation laboratory” or an active control course with similar content or experiential practice laboratory format (music). Participants completed an emotional word recall task and self-report questionnaires of well-being and clinical symptoms before and after the 12-week course. Results: Meditators showed greater increases in positive word recall compared to controls [F(1, 56) = 6.6, p = 0.02]. The meditation group increased significantly more on measures of well-being [F(1, 56) = 6.6, p = 0.01], with a marginal decrease in depression and anxiety [F(1, 56) = 3.0, p = 0.09] compared to controls. Increased positive word recall was associated with increased psychological well-being (r = 0.31, p = 0.02) and decreased clinical symptoms (r = −0.29, p = 0.03). Conclusion: Mindfulness training was associated with greater improvements in processing efficiency for positively valenced stimuli than active control conditions. This change in emotional information processing was associated with improvements in psychological well-being and less depression and anxiety. These data suggest that mindfulness training may improve well-being via changes in emotional information processing. Future research with a fully randomized design will be needed to clarify the possible influence of self-selection.
Citation: Roberts-Wolfe D, Sacchet M, Hastings E, Roth H and Britton W (2012) Mindfulness training alters emotional memory recall compared to active controls: support for an emotional information processing model of mindfulness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 6:15. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00015
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