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This past year has seen significant advances in our understanding of the physiology of emotion. Attention continues to focus on the amygdala and its interconnections with prefrontal cortical regions. New evidence underscores the importance of lateralization for emotion. There are also new findings on the physiological predictors of individual differences in emotional behavior and experience, and on the role of autonomic arousal in emotional memory.
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Experientially opening oneself to pain rather than avoiding it is said to reduce the mind's tendency toward avoidance or anxiety which can further exacerbate the experience of pain. This is a central feature of mindfulness-based therapies. Little is known about the neural mechanisms of mindfulness on pain. During a meditation practice similar to mindfulness, functional magnetic resonance imaging was used in expert meditators (>10,000 h of practice) to dissociate neural activation patterns associated with pain, its anticipation, and habituation. Compared to novices, expert meditators reported equal pain intensity, but less unpleasantness. This difference was associated with enhanced activity in the dorsal anterior insula (aI), and the anterior mid-cingulate (aMCC) the so-called 'salience network', for experts during pain. This enhanced activity during pain was associated with reduced baseline activity before pain in these regions and the amygdala for experts only. The reduced baseline activation in left aI correlated with lifetime meditation experience. This pattern of low baseline activity coupled with high response in aIns and aMCC was associated with enhanced neural habituation in amygdala and pain-related regions before painful stimulation and in the pain-related regions during painful stimulation. These findings suggest that cultivating experiential openness down-regulates anticipatory representation of aversive events, and increases the recruitment of attentional resources during pain, which is associated with faster neural habituation.
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Chaotic conditions are a prevalent and threatening feature of social life. Five studies examined whether social class underlies divergent responses to perceptions of chaos in one's social environments and outcomes. The authors hypothesized that when coping with perceptions of chaos, lower class individuals tend to prioritize community, relative to upper class individuals, who instead tend to prioritize material wealth. Consistent with these predictions, when personally confronting chaos, lower class individuals were more communally oriented (Study 1), more connected with their community (Study 2), and more likely to volunteer for a community-building project (Study 3), compared to upper class individuals. In contrast, perceptions of chaos caused upper class individuals to express greater reliance on wealth (Study 4) and prefer financial gain over membership in a close-knit community (Study 5), relative to lower class individuals. These findings suggest that social class shapes how people respond to perceptions of chaos and cope with its threatening consequences.
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Individuals who experience early adversity, such as child maltreatment, are at heightened risk for a broad array of social and health difficulties. However, little is known about how this behavioral risk is instantiated in the brain. Here we examine a neurobiological contribution to individual differences in human behavior using methodology appropriate for use with pediatric populations paired with an in-depth measure of social behavior. We show that alterations in the orbitofrontal cortex among individuals who experienced physical abuse are related to social difficulties. These data suggest a biological mechanism linking early social learning to later behavioral outcomes.
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The present investigation examined the contributions of specific attentional networks to long-term trait effects of meditation. It was hypothesized that meditation could improve the efficiency of executive processing (inhibits prepotent/incorrect responses) or orientational processing (orients to specific objects in the attentional field). Participants (50 meditators and 10 controls) were given the Stroop (measures executive attention) and Global-Local Letters (measures orientational attention) tasks. Results showed that meditation experience was associated with reduced interference on the Stroop task (p < 0.03), in contrast with a lack of effect on interference in the Global-Local Letters task. This suggests that meditation produces long-term increases in the efficiency of the executive attentional network (anterior cingulate/prefrontal cortex) but no effect on the orientation network (parietal systems). The amount of time participants spent meditating each day, rather than the total number of hours of meditative practice over their lifetime, was negatively correlated with interference on the Stroop task (r = −0.31, p < 0.005).

We assessed whether resting anterior asymmetry would discriminate individual differences in repressive-defensive coping styles. In 2 sessions, resting electroencephalogram was recorded from female adults during 8 60-s baselines. Subjects were classified as repressors or nonrepressors on the basis of scores on the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale (MC), the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). In midfrontal and lateral frontal sites, repressors demonstrated relative left hemisphere activation when compared with other groups. The MC, but not the STAI or the BDI, contributed unique variance to frontal asymmetry. Relative left frontal activation may be linked to a self-enhancing regulatory style that promotes lowered risk for psychopathology.
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The prefrontal cortex (PFC) has been well known for its role in higher order cognition, affect regulation and social reasoning. Although the precise underpinnings have not been sufficiently described, increasing evidence also supports a prefrontal involvement in the regulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Here we investigate the PFC's role in HPA axis regulation during a psychosocial stress exposure in 14 healthy humans. Regional brain metabolism was assessed using positron emission tomography (PET) and injection of fluoro-18-deoxyglucose (FDG). Depending on the exact location within the PFC, increased glucose metabolic rate was associated with lower or higher salivary cortisol concentration in response to a psychosocial stress condition. Metabolic glucose rate in the rostral medial PFC (mPFC) (Brodman area (BA) 9 and BA 10) was negatively associated with stress-induced salivary cortisol increases. Furthermore, metabolic glucose rate in these regions was inversely coupled with changes in glucose metabolic rate in other areas, known to be involved in HPA axis regulation such as the amygdala/hippocampal region. In contrast, metabolic glucose rate in areas more lateral to the mPFC was positively associated with saliva cortisol. Subjective ratings on task stressfulness, task controllability and self-reported dispositional mood states also showed positive and negative associations with the glucose metabolic rate in prefrontal regions. These findings suggest that in humans, the PFC is activated in response to psychosocial stress and distinct prefrontal metabolic glucose patterns are linked to endocrine stress measures as well as subjective ratings on task stressfulness, controllability as well as dispositional mood states.
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A long-standing problem in stress research has been that individuals' reports of their tendencies to become anxious are often inconsistent with relevant behavioral and physiological indices. This study investigated the distinction between (a) truly low-anxious Ss, who report low trait anxiety on the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale and low defensiveness on the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, and (b) repressors, who report low anxiety but high defensiveness. These groups were compared with a moderately high-anxious one. Heart rate, spontaneous skin resistance responses, and forehead muscle tension were recorded from 40 male college students during a phrase association task. Significant differences in the 3 physiological measures as well as in 3 behavioral ones (reaction time, content avoidance, and verbal interference) all indicated that the repressors were more stressed than the low-anxious Ss despite their claims of lower trait anxiety. The high-anxious group exhibited a 3rd pattern suggesting an intermediate level of anxious responding. These data document the need to distinguish between repressors and truly low-anxious persons in research concerned with relations between self-reported anxiety and behavioral and physiological responses to stress. (42 ref)
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A new framework for maintaining mental health and well-being.From the author of the internationally-acclaimed best-selling text The Developing Mind, and esteemed leader and educator in the field of mental health, comes the first book ever to integrate neuroscience research with the ancient art of mindfulness. The result is a groundbreaking approach to not simply mental health, but life in general, which shows readers how personal awareness and attunement can actually stimulate emotional circuits in the brain, leading to a host of physiological benefits, including greater well-being, resilience, emotional balance, and improved cardiac and immune function. For clinicians and laypeople alike, Siegel’s illuminating discussions of the power of the focused mind provide a wealth of ideas that can transform our lives and deepen our connections with others, and with ourselves.
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Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in the present moment. We investigate the hypothesis that mindfulness training may alter or enhance specific aspects of attention. We examined three functionally and neuroanatomically distinct but overlapping attentional subsystems: alerting, orienting, and conflict monitoring. Functioning of each subsystem was indexed by performance on the Attention Network Test. Two types of mindfulness training (MT) programs were examined, and behavioral testing was conducted on participants before (Time 1) and after (Time 2) training. One training group consisted of individuals naive to mindfulness techniques who participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course that emphasized the development of concentrative meditation skills. The other training group consisted of individuals experienced in concentrative meditation techniques who participated in a 1-month intensive mindfulness retreat. Performance of these groups was compared with that of control participants who were meditation naive and received no MT. At Time 1, the participants in the retreat group demonstrated improved conflict monitoring performance relative to those in the MBSR and control groups. At Time 2, the participants in the MBSR course demonstrated significantly improved orienting in comparison with the control and retreat participants. In contrast, the participants in the retreat group demonstrated altered performance on the alerting component, with improvements in exogenous stimulus detection in comparison with the control and MBSR participants. The groups did not differ in conflict monitoring performance at Time 2. These results suggest that mindfulness training may improve attention-related behavioral responses by enhancing functioning of specific subcomponents of attention. Whereas participation in the MBSR course improved the ability to endogenously orient attention, retreat participation appeared to allow for the development and emergence of receptive attentional skills, which improved exogenous alerting-related process.
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Anxiety is a debilitating symptom of many psychiatric disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and autism. Anxiety involves changes in both central and peripheral biology, yet extant functional imaging studies have focused exclusively on the brain. Here we show, using functional brain and cardiac imaging in sequential brain and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sessions in response to cues that predict either threat (a possible shock) or safety (no possibility of shock), that MR signal change in the amygdala and the prefrontal and insula cortices predicts cardiac contractility to the threat of shock. Participants with greater MR signal change in these regions show increased cardiac contractility to the threat versus safety condition, a measure of the sympathetic nervous system contribution to the myocardium. These findings demonstrate robust neural-cardiac coupling during induced anxiety and indicate that individuals with greater activation in brain regions identified with aversive emotion show larger magnitude cardiac contractility increases to threat.
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Aversive Pavlovian conditioning is an important tool used to investigate neurobiological mechanisms underlying the acquisition and expression of fear. Most studies have used nonprimate species employing electrical shock as the unconditioned stimulus (US). Although important advances have been made in understanding the neural substrates of conditioned fear, the extent to which these findings apply to primates is unclear. Research in primates has not progressed because of the lack of a conditioning paradigm that does not use shock. Therefore, we developed a method that uses a US consisting of a loud noise coupled with a stream of compressed air aimed at the face to aversively condition heart rate response in rhesus monkeys. With this US, rhesus monkeys rapidly acquire a conditioned bradycardia. The availability of an easy, reliable, and efficient method of aversive conditioning that does not require electrical shock, will facilitate studies investigating neurobiological mechanisms underlying the acquisition and expression of fear in primates.
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Objective To investigate the effect of mindfulness training on pain tolerance, psychological well-being, physiological activity, and the acquisition of mindfulness skills. Methods Forty-two asymptomatic University students participated in a randomized, single-blind, active control pilot study. Participants in the experimental condition were offered six (1-h) mindfulness sessions; control participants were offered two (1-h) Guided Visual Imagery sessions. Both groups were provided with practice CDs and encouraged to practice daily. Pre–post pain tolerance (cold pressor test), mood, blood pressure, pulse, and mindfulness skills were obtained. Results Pain tolerance significantly increased in the mindfulness condition only. There was a strong trend indicating that mindfulness skills increased in the mindfulness condition, but this was not related to improved pain tolerance. Diastolic blood pressure significantly decreased in both conditions. Conclusion Mindfulness training did increase pain tolerance, but this was not related to the acquisition of mindfulness skills.

Although mindfulness meditation traditionally is viewed as a lifelong practice, much current knowledge about its effects is based on short-term practitioners who have participated in mindfulness-based treatment. In the current study, long-term meditators and demographically similar nonmeditators completed self-report measures of constructs expected to be related to the practice of mindfulness meditation. Extent of meditation experience was correlated in the expected directions with levels of mindfulness and with many other variables. Mean differences between meditators and nonmeditators were significant in most cases. Mediation analyses were consistent with the hypothesis that practicing meditation is associated with increased mindfulness in daily life, which is related to decreased rumination, decreased fear of emotion, and increased behavioral self-regulation. These mechanisms appear partially responsible for the relationships between mindfulness skills and psychological adjustment. Overall, the current study suggests that the long-term practice of mindfulness meditation may cultivate mindfulness skills and promote adaptive functioning.

The relaxation response (RR) is the counterpart of the stress response. Millennia-old practices evoking the RR include meditation, yoga and repetitive prayer. Although RR elicitation is an effective therapeutic intervention that counteracts the adverse clinical effects of stress in disorders including hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and aging, the underlying molecular mechanisms that explain these clinical benefits remain undetermined. To assess rapid time-dependent (temporal) genomic changes during one session of RR practice among healthy practitioners with years of RR practice and also in novices before and after 8 weeks of RR training, we measured the transcriptome in peripheral blood prior to, immediately after, and 15 minutes after listening to an RR-eliciting or a health education CD. Both short-term and long-term practitioners evoked significant temporal gene expression changes with greater significance in the latter as compared to novices. RR practice enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. Interactive network analyses of RR-affected pathways identified mitochondrial ATP synthase and insulin (INS) as top upregulated critical molecules (focus hubs) and NF-κB pathway genes as top downregulated focus hubs. Our results for the first time indicate that RR elicitation, particularly after long-term practice, may evoke its downstream health benefits by improving mitochondrial energy production and utilization and thus promoting mitochondrial resiliency through upregulation of ATPase and insulin function. Mitochondrial resiliency might also be promoted by RR-induced downregulation of NF-κB-associated upstream and downstream targets that mitigates stress.
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This study, based on a sample of 172 children, examined the relation between average afternoon salivary cortisol levels measured at home at age 4.5 years and socioemotional adjustment a year and a half later, as reported by mothers, fathers, and teachers. Cortisol levels were hypothesized to be positively associated with withdrawal-type behaviors (e.g., internalizing, social wariness) and inversely related to approach-type behaviors, both negative and positive (e.g., externalizing, school engagement). Higher cortisol levels at age 4.5 predicted more internalizing behavior and social wariness as reported by teachers and mothers, although child gender moderated the relation between cortisol and mother report measures. An inverse relation was found between boys' cortisol levels and father report of externalizing behavior. A marginal inverse relation was found between child cortisol levels and teacher report of school engagement. Behavior assessed concurrently with cortisol collection did not account for the prospective relations observed,suggesting that cortisol adds uniquely to an understanding of behavioral development.
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