This study investigated differences in brain activation during meditation between meditators and non-meditators. Fifteen Vipassana meditators (mean practice: 7.9 years, 2 h daily) and fifteen non-meditators, matched for sex, age, education, and handedness, participated in a block-design fMRI study that included mindfulness of breathing and mental arithmetic conditions. For the meditation condition (contrasted to arithmetic), meditators showed stronger activations in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex bilaterally, compared to controls. Greater rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation in meditators may reflect stronger processing of distracting events. The increased activation in the medial prefrontal cortex may reflect that meditators are stronger engaged in emotional processing.
Mindfulness meditation practices (MMPs) are a subgroup of meditation practices which are receiving growing attention. The present paper reviews current evidence about the effects of MMPs on objective measures of cognitive functions. Five databases were searched. Twenty three studies providing measures of attention, memory, executive functions and further miscellaneous measures of cognition were included. Fifteen were controlled or randomized controlled studies and 8 were case–control studies. Overall, reviewed studies suggested that early phases of mindfulness training, which are more concerned with the development of focused attention, could be associated with significant improvements in selective and executive attention whereas the following phases, which are characterized by an open monitoring of internal and external stimuli, could be mainly associated with improved unfocused sustained attention abilities. Additionally, MMPs could enhance working memory capacity and some executive functions. However, many of the included studies show methodological limitations and negative results have been reported as well, plausibly reflecting differences in study design, study duration and patients' populations. Accordingly, even though findings here reviewed provided preliminary evidence suggesting that MMPs could enhance cognitive functions, available evidence should be considered with caution and further high quality studies investigating more standardized mindfulness meditation programs are needed.
- Contemplation by Applied Subject,
- Psychiatry and Contemplation,
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction / Cognitive Therapy,
- Psychotherapy and Contemplation,
- Health Care and Contemplation,
- Neuroscience and Contemplation,
- Cognition and Contemplation,
- Psychology and Contemplation,
- Science and Contemplation
Pseudoneglect is traditionally viewed as reflecting right hemisphere specialization for processing spatial information, resulting in orienting toward the contralateral, left, hemispace. Recent evidence suggests that healthy individuals differ from each other in both direction and magnitude of orienting bias, and moreover, the bias displayed by a person is consistent across time, suggesting that it may represent a trait of the individual. Animal studies reveal consistent orienting bias within an individual, which reflects asymmetry in dopaminergic brain systems. We measured basal D2-like receptor binding using positron emission tomography and the high-affinity ligand [F-18]fallypride, to test the hypothesis that asymmetry in dopaminergic neurotransmission in healthy humans modulates the orienting bias in humans. As predicted, we found that individual differences in the direction and magnitude of the orienting bias were strongly associated with the pattern of asymmetric binding of dopamine (DA) D2 receptors in the striatum, as well as clusters in the frontal and temporal cortex. These findings show for the first time that orienting bias reflects individual differences in the lateralization of DA systems in the healthy human brain.
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.
OBJECTIVES: Randomized controlled studies on the effectiveness of body-oriented methods of treatment for children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are lacking. Our aim was to compare the effectiveness of two methods of treatment (yoga for children vs. conventional motor exercises) in a randomized controlled pilot study. METHODS: Nineteen children with a clinical diagnosis of ADHD (according to ICD-10 criteria) were included and randomly assigned to treatment conditions according to a 2x2 cross-over design. Effects of treatment were analyzed by means of an analysis of variance for repeated measurements. RESULTS: For all outcome measures (test scores on an attention task, and parent ratings of ADHD symptoms) the yoga training was superior to the conventional motor training, with effect sizes in the medium-to-high range (0.60-0.97). All children showed sizable reductions in symptoms over time, and at the end of the study, the group means for the ADHD scales did not differ significantly from those for a representative control group. Furthermore, the training was particularly effective for children undergoing pharmacotherapy (MPH). CONCLUSIONS: The findings from this pilot study demonstrate that yoga can be an effective complementary or concomitant treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study advocates further research into the impact of yoga or body-oriented therapies on the prevention and treatment of ADHD.
The effectiveness of an 8-week mindfulness training for adolescents aged 11–15 years with ADHD and parallel Mindful Parenting training for their parents was evaluated, using questionnaires as well as computerized attention tests. Adolescents (N = 10), their parents (N = 19) and tutors (N = 7) completed measurements before, immediately after, 8 weeks after and 16 weeks after training. Adolescents reported on their attention and behavioral problems and mindful awareness, and were administered two computerized sustained attention tasks. Parents as well as tutors reported on adolescents’ attention and behavioral problems and executive functioning. Parents further reported on their own parenting, parenting stress and mindful awareness. Both the mindfulness training for the adolescents and their parents was delivered in group format. First, after mindfulness training, adolescents’ attention and behavior problems reduced, while their executive functioning improved, as indicated by self-report measures as well as by father and teacher report. Second, improvements in adolescent’ actual performance on attention tests were found after mindfulness training. Moreover, fathers, but not mothers, reported reduced parenting stress. Mothers reported reduced overreactive parenting, whereas fathers reported an increase. No effect on mindful awareness of adolescents or parents was found. Effects of mindfulness training became stronger at 8-week follow-up, but waned at 16-week follow-up. Our study adds to the emerging body of evidence indicating that mindfulness training for adolescents with ADHD (and their parents) is an effective approach, but maintenance strategies need to be developed in order for this approach to be effective in the longer term.
Studies on the effects of mindfulness interventions on mental health and behavioral problems in children show promising results, but are primarily conducted with selected samples of children. The few studies investigating school-based interventions used self-selected samples, provided training outside of the classroom, and did not report longer-term effects. The immediate and longer-term effects of a class-based mindfulness intervention for elementary school children were investigated as a primary prevention program (MindfulKids) to reduce stress and stress-related mental health and behavioral problems. Children (8–12 years) from three elementary schools participated. Classes were randomized to an immediate-intervention group (N = 95) or a waitlist-control group (N = 104), which received the intervention after a waitlist period. Twelve 30-min sessions were delivered in 6 weeks. At baseline, pretest, posttest, and follow-up, variables indicative of stress and metal well-being were assessed with children, variables indicative of mental health problems were assessed with parents, and teachers reported on class climate. Multilevel analysis revealed that there were no significant changes from baseline to pretest. Some primary prevention effects on stress and well-being were found directly after training and some became more apparent at follow-up. Effects on mental health problems also became apparent at follow-up. MindfulKids seems to have a primary preventive effect on stress, well-being, and behavior in schoolchildren, as reported by children and parents. Exploratory analysis revealed that children who ruminate more are affected differently by the intervention than children who ruminate less. It is concluded that mindfulness training can be incorporated in elementary schools at the class level, letting all children benefit from the intervention.
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).
BACKGROUND: Typical interventions for acute pain in children attempt to reduce pain by directing attention away from pain. Conversely, mindfulness involves devoting attention to one’s experience in an accepting and nonjudgmental way. However, the effect that instructing children to mindfully devote attention to acute pain has on pain outcomes is unknown. OBJECTIVES: To examine whether mindful attention can help children attend to pain without increasing pain intensity or decreasing pain tolerance; to compare the effects of mindful attention with a well-established intervention designed to take attention away from pain (guided imagery); and to test whether baseline coping style or trait mindfulness alter the effects of these interventions. METHODS: A total of 82 children (10 to 14 years of age) completed measures of coping style and trait mindfulness. Participants then received either mindful attention or guided imagery instructions designed to direct attention toward or away from pain, respectively, before participating in a cold pressor task. RESULTS: The mindful attention group reported more awareness of the physical sensations of pain and thoughts about those sensations. Overall, there were no between-group differences in measures of pain intensity or pain tolerance during the cold pressor task, and no evidence of an interaction between baseline characteristics of the child and experimental condition. CONCLUSIONS: Mindful attention was successful in helping children focus attention on experimental pain without increasing pain intensity or decreasing tolerance compared with a well-established intervention for acute pain reduction.
During selective attention, ∼7–14 Hz alpha rhythms are modulated in early sensory cortices, suggesting a mechanistic role for these dynamics in perception. Here, we investigated whether alpha modulation can be enhanced by “mindfulness” meditation (MM), a program training practitioners in sustained attention to body and breath-related sensations. We hypothesized that participants in the MM group would exhibit enhanced alpha power modulation in a localized representation in the primary somatosensory neocortex in response to a cue, as compared to participants in the control group. Healthy subjects were randomized to 8-weeks of MM training or a control group. Using magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recording of the SI finger representation, we found meditators demonstrated enhanced alpha power modulation in response to a cue. This finding is the first to show enhanced local alpha modulation following sustained attentional training, and implicates this form of enhanced dynamic neural regulation in the behavioral effects of meditative practice.
In two prior studies, we investigated the neural mechanisms of spatial attention using a combined event-related potential (ERP) and positron emission tomography (PET) approach (Heinze et al. : Nature 392:543-546; Mangun et al. : Hum Brain Mapp 5:273-279). Neural activations in extrastriate cortex were observed in the PET measures for attended stimuli, and these effects were related to attentional modulations in the ERPs at specific latencies. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and ERPs in single subjects to investigate the intersubject variability in extrastriate spatial attention effects, and to qualitatively compare this to variations in ERP attention effects. Activations in single subjects replicated our prior group-averaged PET findings, showing attention-related increases in blood flow in the posterior fusiform and middle occipital gyri in the hemisphere contralateral to attended visual stimuli. All subjects showed attentional modulations of the occipital P1 component of the ERPs. These findings in single subjects demonstrate the consistency of extrastriate attention effects, and provide information about the feasibility of this approach for integration of electrical and functional imaging data.
A number of issues important to the clinical utility of mindfulness require systematic study. These include the most parsimonious definition of mindfulness for clinical purposes, how mindfulness is best described to be most approachable to patients, and the extent to which mindfulness shares common mechanisms with other mind-body programs. The discussion includes a brief review of the transition of mindfulness from traditional into clinical settings as well as the components commonly contained within clinical descriptions of mindfulness. A model based on facility in the use of attention is proposed, and a description of mechanisms by which attentional skill may lead to the recognition of internal associational processes and account for psychological outcomes is given. Using constructs already familiar to patients, an attention-based conception may also be more accessible to patients than more elaborate descriptions and have greater utility in identifying commonalities that mindfulness training may have with other mind-body programs.
We investigated the impact of mindfulness training (MT) on working memory capacity (WMC) and affective experience. WMC is used in managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet, persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals, may deplete WMC and lead to cognitive failures and emotional disturbances. We hypothesized that MT may mitigate these deleterious effects by bolstering WMC. We recruited 2 military cohorts during the high-stress predeployment interval and provided MT to 1 (MT, n = 31) but not the other group (military control group, MC, n = 17). The MT group attended an 8-week MT course and logged the amount of out-of-class time spent practicing formal MT exercises. The operation span task was used to index WMC at 2 testing sessions before and after the MT course. Although WMC remained stable over time in civilians (n = 12), it degraded in the MC group. In the MT group, WMC decreased over time in those with low MT practice time, but increased in those with high practice time. Higher MT practice time also corresponded to lower levels of negative affect and higher levels of positive affect (indexed by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule). The relationship between practice time and negative, but not positive, affect was mediated by WMC, indicating that MT-related improvements in WMC may support some but not all of MT's salutary effects. Nonetheless, these findings suggest that sufficient MT practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress contexts.
Many recent behavioral and neuroscientific studies have revealed the importance of investigating meditation states and traits to achieve an increased understanding of cognitive and affective neuroplasticity, attention and self-awareness, as well as for their increasingly recognized clinical relevance. The investigation of states and traits related to meditation has especially pronounced implications for the neuroscience of attention, consciousness, self-awareness, empathy and theory of mind. In this article we present the main features of meditation-based mental training and characterize the current scientific approach to meditation states and traits with special reference to attention and consciousness, in light of the articles contributed to this issue.
Although individuals experience embarrassment as an unpleasant, negative emotion, the authors argue that expressions of embarrassment serve vital social functions, signaling the embarrassed individual's prosociality and fostering trust. Extending past research on embarrassment as a nonverbal apology and appeasement gesture, the authors demonstrate that observers recognize the expression of embarrassment as a signal of prosociality and commitment to social relationships. In turn, observers respond with affiliative behaviors toward the signaler, including greater trust and desire to affiliate with the embarrassed individual. Five studies tested these hypotheses and ruled out alternative explanations. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals who are more embarrassable also reported greater prosociality and behaved more generously than their less embarrassable counterparts. Results of Studies 2-5 revealed that observers rated embarrassed targets as being more prosocial and less antisocial relative to targets who displayed either a different emotion or no emotion. In addition, observers were more willing to give resources and express a desire to affiliate with these targets, and these effects were mediated by perceptions of the targets as prosocial.
Individuals differ dramatically in the quality and intensity of their response to affectively evocative stimuli. On the basis of prior theory and research, we hypothesized that these individual differences are related to variation in activation of the left and right frontal brain regions. We recorded baseline brain electrical activity from subjects on two occasions 3 weeks apart. Immediately following the second recording, subjects were exposed to brief positive and negative emotional film clips. For subjects whose frontal asymmetry was stable across the 3-week period, greater left frontal activation was associated with reports of more intense positive affect in response to the positive films, whereas greater right frontal activation was associated with more intense reports of negative affect in response to the negative film clips. The methodological and theoretical implications of these data are discussed.
BACKGROUND: The broad autism phenotype includes subclinical autistic characteristics found to have a higher prevalence in unaffected family members of individuals with autism. These characteristics primarily affect the social aspects of language, communication, and human interaction. The current research focuses on possible neurobehavioral characteristics associated with the broad autism phenotype. METHODS: We used a face-processing task associated with atypical patterns of gaze fixation and brain function in autism while collecting brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and eye tracking in unaffected siblings of individuals with autism. RESULTS: We found robust differences in gaze fixation and brain function in response to images of human faces in unaffected siblings compared with typically developing control individuals. The siblings' gaze fixations and brain activation patterns during the face processing task were similar to that of the autism group and showed decreased gaze fixation along with diminished fusiform activation compared with the control group. Furthermore, amygdala volume in the siblings was similar to the autism group and was significantly reduced compared with the control group. CONCLUSIONS: Together, these findings provide compelling evidence for differences in social/emotional processing and underlying neural circuitry in siblings of individuals with autism, supporting the notion of unique endophenotypes associated with the broad autism phenotype.
Recent studies have identified a distributed network of brain regions thought to support cognitive reappraisal processes underlying emotion regulation in response to affective images, including parieto-temporal regions and lateral/medial regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC). A number of these commonly activated regions are also known to underlie visuospatial attention and oculomotor control, which raises the possibility that people use attentional redeployment rather than, or in addition to, reappraisal as a strategy to regulate emotion. We predicted that a significant portion of the observed variance in brain activation during emotion regulation tasks would be associated with differences in how participants visually scan the images while regulating their emotions. We recorded brain activation using fMRI and quantified patterns of gaze fixation while participants increased or decreased their affective response to a set of affective images. fMRI results replicated previous findings on emotion regulation with regulation differences reflected in regions of PFC and the amygdala. In addition, our gaze fixation data revealed that when regulating, individuals changed their gaze patterns relative to a control condition. Furthermore, this variation in gaze fixation accounted for substantial amounts of variance in brain activation. These data point to the importance of controlling for gaze fixation in studies of emotion regulation that use visual stimuli.
With each eye fixation, we experience a richly detailed visual world. Yet recent work on visual integration and change direction reveals that we are surprisingly unaware of the details of our environment from one view to the next: we often do not detect large changes to objects and scenes ('change blindness'). Furthermore, without attention, we may not even perceive objects ('inattentional blindness'). Taken together, these findings suggest that we perceive and remember only those objects and details that receive focused attention. In this paper, we briefly review and discuss evidence for these cognitive forms of 'blindness'. We then present a new study that builds on classic studies of divided visual attention to examine inattentional blindness for complex objects and events in dynamic scenes. Our results suggest that the likelihood of noticing an unexpected object depends on the similarity of that object to other objects in the display and on how difficult the priming monitoring task is. Interestingly, spatial proximity of the critical unattended object to attended locations does not appear to affect detection, suggesting that observers attend to objects and events, not spatial positions. We discuss the implications of these results for visual representations and awareness of our visual environment.
Many objects typically occur in particular locations, and object words encode these spatial associations. We tested whether such object words (e.g., head, foot) orient attention toward the location where the denoted object typically occurs (i.e., up, down). Because object words elicit perceptual simulations of the denoted objects (i.e., the representations acquired during actual perception are reactivated), we predicted that an object word would interfere with identification of an unrelated visual target subsequently presented in the object's typical location. Consistent with this prediction, three experiments demonstrated that words denoting objects that typically occur high in the visual field hindered identification of targets appearing at the top of the display, whereas words denoting low objects hindered target identification at the bottom of the display. Thus, object words oriented attention to and activated perceptual simulations in the objects' typical locations. These results shed new light on how language affects perception.
We present a new subcortical structure shape modeling framework using heat kernel smoothing constructed with the Laplace-Beltrami eigenfunctions. The cotan discretization is used to numerically obtain the eigenfunctions of the Laplace-Beltrami operator along the surface of subcortical structures of the brain. The eigenfunctions are then used to construct the heat kernel and used in smoothing out measurements noise along the surface. The proposed framework is applied in investigating the influence of age (38-79 years) and gender on amygdala and hippocampus shape. We detected a significant age effect on hippocampus in accordance with the previous studies. In addition, we also detected a significant gender effect on amygdala. Since we did not find any such differences in the traditional volumetric methods, our results demonstrate the benefit of the current framework over traditional volumetric methods.
Research on the anatomical bases of interhemispheric interaction, including individual differences in corpus callosum (CC) anatomy, is reviewed. These anatomical findings form the basis for the discussion of two major themes. The first considers interhemispheric transfer time (IHTT) and related issues. These include varieties of IHTT and possible directional asymmetries of IHTT. Evidence suggests that pathological variations in IHTT may have cognitive consequences. The second involves conditions under which interhemispheric interaction is necessary and beneficial. The data suggest that when both hemispheres have some competence at a difficult task, there is a benefit to interhemispheric interaction. The role of the CC in the dynamic distribution of attention may be particularly relevant to this advantage. Throughout the article reference is made to individual differences and developmental changes associated with interhemispheric interaction.
Cultivation of mindfulness, the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment, produces beneficial effects on well-being and ameliorates psychiatric and stress-related symptoms. Mindfulness meditation has therefore increasingly been incorporated into psychotherapeutic interventions. Although the number of publications in the field has sharply increased over the last two decades, there is a paucity of theoretical reviews that integrate the existing literature into a comprehensive theoretical framework. In this article, we explore several components through which mindfulness meditation exerts its effects: (a) attention regulation, (b) body awareness, (c) emotion regulation (including reappraisal and exposure, extinction, and reconsolidation), and (d) change in perspective on the self. Recent empirical research, including practitioners’ self-reports and experimental data, provides evidence supporting these mechanisms. Functional and structural neuroimaging studies have begun to explore the neuroscientific processes underlying these components. Evidence suggests that mindfulness practice is associated with neuroplastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network, and default mode network structures. The authors suggest that the mechanisms described here work synergistically, establishing a process of enhanced self-regulation. Differentiating between these components seems useful to guide future basic research and to specifically target areas of development in the treatment of psychological disorders.