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What is compassion? And how did it evolve? In this review, we integrate 3 evolutionary arguments that converge on the hypothesis that compassion evolved as a distinct affective experience whose primary function is to facilitate cooperation and protection of the weak and those who suffer. Our empirical review reveals compassion to have distinct appraisal processes attuned to undeserved suffering; distinct signaling behavior related to caregiving patterns of touch, posture, and vocalization; and a phenomenological experience and physiological response that orients the individual to social approach. This response profile of compassion differs from those of distress, sadness, and love, suggesting that compassion is indeed a distinct emotion. We conclude by considering how compassion shapes moral judgment and action, how it varies across different cultures, and how it may engage specific patterns of neural activation, as well as emerging directions of research.
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Contemplative practices are believed to alleviate psychological problems, cultivate prosocial behavior and promote self-awareness. In addition, psychological science has developed tools and models for understanding the mind and promoting well-being. Additional effort is needed to combine frameworks and techniques from these traditions to improve emotional experience and socioemotional behavior. An 8-week intensive (42 hr) meditation/emotion regulation training intervention was designed by experts in contemplative traditions and emotion science to reduce “destructive enactment of emotions” and enhance prosocial responses. Participants were 82 healthy female schoolteachers who were randomly assigned to a training group or a wait-list control group, and assessed preassessment, postassessment, and 5 months after training completion. Assessments included self-reports and experimental tasks to capture changes in emotional behavior. The training group reported reduced trait negative affect, rumination, depression, and anxiety, and increased trait positive affect and mindfulness compared to the control group. On a series of behavioral tasks, the training increased recognition of emotions in others (Micro-Expression Training Tool), protected trainees from some of the psychophysiological effects of an experimental threat to self (Trier Social Stress Test; TSST), appeared to activate cognitive networks associated with compassion (lexical decision procedure), and affected hostile behavior in the Marital Interaction Task. Most effects at postassessment that were examined at follow-up were maintained (excluding positive affect, TSST rumination, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia recovery). Findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior, and they support the benefit of integrating contemplative theories/practices with psychological models and methods of emotion regulation.

Positive emotions promote adjustment to aversive life events. However, evolutionary theory and empirical research on trauma disclosure suggest that in the context of stigmatized events, expressing positive emotions might incur social costs. To test this thesis, the authors coded genuine (Duchenne) smiling and laughter and also non-Duchenne smiling from videotapes of late-adolescent and young adult women, approximately half with documented histories of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), as they described the most distressing event of their lives. Consistent with previous studies, genuine positive emotional expression was generally associated with better social adjustment two years later. However, as anticipated, CSA survivors who expressed positive emotion in the context of describing a past CSA experience had poorer long-term social adjustment, whereas CSA survivors who expressed positive emotion while describing a nonabuse experience had improved social adjustment. These findings suggest that the benefits of positive emotional expression may often be context specific.
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The putative association between fear-related behaviors and peripheral sympathetic and neuroendocrine reactivity has not been replicated consistently. This inconsistency was addressed in a reexamination of the characterization of children with extreme fearful reactions by focusing on the match between distress behaviors and the eliciting context. Eighty 24-month-old children were observed in 4 mildly threatening contexts, and the relations among different measures of fear-related behaviors, reactive and basal cortisol levels, and baseline cardiac measures of heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period (PEP) were examined. The hypothesis that only behaviors under the less threatening context would be associated with higher cortisol and sympathetic cardiac activity was confirmed; only task-specific freezing behavior predicted higher reactive and basal cortisol levels and resting PEP measured 1 week later. Implications for the conceptualization of dysregulated fear behaviors in the classification of extremely fearful children are discussed.
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After screening 368 toddlers and selecting 77 into extremely inhibited, extremely uninhibited, and intermediate groups, 63 children (82%) were followed up at 4 and 7 years. Minority subgroups of both the inhibited and uninhibited children showed continuity on outcomes consisting of questionnaire measures of shyness, inhibitory control, and impulsivity, as well as multiepisode observational measures of behavioral inhibition and exuberance. Change from both inhibited and uninhibited status from the toddler age was more common than remaining extremely inhibited or uninhibited, but that change was largely constrained to the middle of the distribution.
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Background: Mindfulness is the development of a nonjudgmental accepting awareness of moment-by-moment experience. Intentionally attending to one’s ongoing stream of sensations, thoughts, and emotions as they arise has a number of benefits, including the ability to react with greater flexibility to events and sustain attention. Thus the teaching of mindfulness-based skills to children and their carers is a potential means of improving family relationships and helping children achieve more positive developmental outcomes through increased ability to sustain attention and manage emotions. We provide a review of recent studies evaluating mindfulness-based interventions targeting children, adolescents, and families in educational and clinical settings.Method: Searches were conducted of several databases (including Medline, PsychINFO and Cochrane Reviews) to identify studies that have evaluated mindfulness-based interventions targeting children, adolescents or families published since 2009.Results: Twenty-four studies were identified. We conclude that mindfulness-based interventions are an important addition to the repertoire of existing therapeutic techniques. However, large-scale, methodologically rigorous studies are lacking. The interventions used in treatment evaluations vary in both content and dose, the outcomes targeted have varied, and no studies have employed methodology to investigate mechanisms of change.Conclusions: There is increasing evidence that mindfulness-based therapeutic techniques can have a positive impact on a range of outcome variables. A greater understanding of the mechanisms of change is an important future direction of research. We argue that locating mindfulness-based therapies targeting children and families within the broader child and family field has greater promise in improving child and family functioning than viewing mindful parenting as an independent endeavor.
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Poor sleep is common in substance use disorders (SUDs) and is a risk factor for relapse. Within the context of a multicomponent, mindfulness-based sleep intervention that included mindfulness meditation (MM) for adolescent outpatients with SUDs (n = 55), this analysis assessed the contributions of MM practice intensity to gains in sleep quality and self-efficacy related to SUDs. Eighteen adolescents completed a 6-session study intervention and questionnaires on psychological distress, sleep quality, mindfulness practice, and substance use at baseline, 8, 20, and 60 weeks postentry. Program participation was associated with improvements in sleep and emotional distress, and reduced substance use. MM practice frequency correlated with increased sleep duration and improvement in self-efficacy about substance use. Increased sleep duration was associated with improvements in psychological distress, relapse resistance, and substance use-related problems. These findings suggest that sleep is an important therapeutic target in substance abusing adolescents and that MM may be a useful component to promote improved sleep.

Poor sleep is common in substance use disorders (SUDs) and is a risk factor for relapse. Within the context of a multicomponent, mindfulness-based sleep intervention that included mindfulness meditation (MM) for adolescent outpatients with SUDs (n = 55), this analysis assessed the contributions of MM practice intensity to gains in sleep quality and self-efficacy related to SUDs. Eighteen adolescents completed a 6-session study intervention and questionnaires on psychological distress, sleep quality, mindfulness practice, and substance use at baseline, 8, 20, and 60 weeks postentry. Program participation was associated with improvements in sleep and emotional distress, and reduced substance use. MM practice frequency correlated with increased sleep duration and improvement in self-efficacy about substance use. Increased sleep duration was associated with improvements in psychological distress, relapse resistance, and substance use-related problems. These findings suggest that sleep is an important therapeutic target in substance abusing adolescents and that MM may be a useful component to promote improved sleep.
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We present a novel data smoothing and analysis framework for cortical thickness data defined on the brain cortical manifold. Gaussian kernel smoothing, which weights neighboring observations according to their 3D Euclidean distance, has been widely used in 3D brain images to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. When the observations lie on a convoluted brain surface, however, it is more natural to assign the weights based on the geodesic distance along the surface. We therefore develop a framework for geodesic distance-based kernel smoothing and statistical analysis on the cortical manifolds. As an illustration, we apply our methods in detecting the regions of abnormal cortical thickness in 16 high functioning autistic children via random field based multiple comparison correction that utilizes the new smoothing technique.
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Many investigators have hypothesized that brain response to cortisol is altered in depression. However, neural activation in response to exogenously manipulated cortisol elevations has not yet been directly examined in depressed humans. Animal research shows that glucocorticoids have robust effects on hippocampal function, and can either enhance or suppress neuroplastic events in the hippocampus depending on a number of factors. We hypothesized that depressed individuals would show 1) altered hippocampal response to exogenous administration of cortisol, and 2) altered effects of cortisol on learning. In a repeated-measures design, 19 unmedicated depressed and 41 healthy individuals completed two fMRI scans. Fifteen mg oral hydrocortisone (i.e., cortisol) or placebo (order randomized and double-blind) was administered 1 h prior to encoding of emotional and neutral words during fMRI scans. Data analysis examined the effects of cortisol administration on 1) brain activation during encoding, and 2) subsequent free recall for words. Cortisol affected subsequent recall performance in depressed but not healthy individuals. We found alterations in hippocampal response to cortisol in depressed women, but not in depressed men (who showed altered response to cortisol in other regions, including subgenual prefrontal cortex). In both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function were positively correlated with its effects on recall performance assessed days later. Our data provide evidence that in depressed compared to healthy women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function are altered. Our data also show that in both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on emotional memory formation and hippocampal function are related.
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In rodents, theta rhythm has been linked to the hippocampal formation, as well as other regions, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). To test the role of the ACC in theta rhythm, concurrent measurements of brain electrical activity (EEG) and glucose metabolism (PET) were performed in 29 subjects at baseline. EEG data were analyzed with a source localization technique that enabled voxelwise correlations of EEG and PET data. For theta, but not other bands, the rostral ACC (Brodmann areas 24/32) was the largest cluster with positive correlations between current density and glucose metabolism. Positive correlations were also found in right fronto-temporal regions. In control but not depressed subjects, theta within ACC and prefrontal/orbitofrontal regions was positively correlated. The results reveal a link between theta and cerebral metabolism in the ACC as well as disruption of functional connectivity within frontocingulate pathways in depression.
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Cyclic AMP (cAMP) is a second messenger involved in many processes including mnemonic processing and anxiety. Memory deficits and anxiety are noted in the phenotype of fragile X (FX), the most common heritable cause of mental retardation and autism. Here we review reported observations of altered cAMP cascade function in FX and autism. Cyclic AMP is a potentially useful biochemical marker to distinguish autism comorbid with FX from autism per se and the cAMP cascade may be a viable therapeutic target for both FX and autism.
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Depression is a disorder of the representation and regulation of mood and emotion. The circuitry underlying the representation and regulation of normal emotion and mood is reviewed, including studies at the animal level, human lesion studies, and human brain imaging studies. This corpus of data is used to construct a model of the ways in which affect can become disordered in depression. Research on the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, hippocampus, and amygdala is reviewed and abnormalities in the structure and function of these different regions in depression is considered. The review concludes with proposals for the specific types of processing abnormalities that result from dysfunctions in different parts of this circuitry and offers suggestions for the major themes upon which future research in this area should be focused.
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Early life stress (ELS) and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis predict later psychopathology. Animal studies and cross-sectional human studies suggest that this process might operate through amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) circuitry implicated in the regulation of emotion. Here we prospectively investigated the roles of ELS and childhood basal cortisol amounts in the development of adolescent resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC), assessed by functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI), in the amygdala-PFC circuit. In females only, greater ELS predicted increased childhood cortisol levels, which predicted decreased amygdala-vmPFC rs-FC 14 years later. For females, adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity was inversely correlated with concurrent anxiety symptoms but positively associated with depressive symptoms, suggesting differing pathways from childhood cortisol levels function through adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity to anxiety and depression. These data highlight that, for females, the effects of ELS and early HPA-axis function may be detected much later in the intrinsic processing of emotion-related brain circuits.
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Affective neuroscience and cognitive science approaches are useful for understanding the components of emotion regulation; several examples from current research are provided. Individual differences in emotion regulation and a focus on the context of emotion experience and expression provide additional tools to study emotion regulation, and its development, from a biobehavioral perspective.
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Individual variation in the experience and expression of pleasure may relate to differential patterns of lateral frontal activity. Brain electrical measures have been used to study the asymmetric involvement of lateral frontal cortex in positive emotion, but the excellent time resolution of these measures has not been used to capture second-by-second changes in ongoing emotion until now. The relationship between pleasure and second-by-second lateral frontal activity was examined with the use of hierarchical linear modeling in a sample of 128 children ages 6-10 years. Electroencephalographic activity was recorded during "pop-out toy," a standardized task that elicits pleasure. The task consisted of 3 epochs: an anticipation period sandwiched between 2 play periods. The amount of pleasure expressed during the task predicted the pattern of nonlinear change in lateral frontal activity. Children who expressed increasing amounts of pleasure during the task exhibited increasing left lateral frontal activity during the task, whereas children who expressed contentment exhibited increasing right/decreasing left activity. These findings indicate that task-dependent changes in pleasure relate to dynamic, nonlinear changes in lateral frontal activity as the task unfolds.
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Cognitive deficits have been reported in children who experienced early neglect, especially children raised in institutionalized settings. Previous research suggests that early neglect may differentially affect the directional organization of white matter in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This may be one mechanism to explain cognitive deficits associated with neglect. To test this idea, properties of white matter and neurocognitive performance were assessed in children who suffered early neglect and those raised in typical environments (n = 63, Mage  = 11.75 years). As predicted, prefrontal white matter microstructure was affected, consistent with more diffuse organization, in children that suffered early neglect and this was related to neurocognitive deficits. Such findings underscore how early adversity may affect the PFC and explain cognitive deficits associated with neglect.
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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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Asymmetry of waking electroencephalography (EEG) alpha power in frontal regions has been correlated with waking emotional reactivity and the emotional content of dream reports. Little is known regarding alpha asymmetry during sleep. The present study was performed to compare alpha power and alpha power asymmetry in various brain regions across states of sleep and wakefulness. Waking and sleep EEG were recorded in a group of patients undergoing polysomnographic evaluation for possible sleep disorders. Alpha EEG asymmetry in frontal and temporal regions was significantly correlated in waking versus sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These results suggest that patterns of frontal alpha asymmetry are stable across sleep and waking and may be related to emotional reactivity during dreaming. During sleep, alpha power was highest during slow-wave sleep and lowest during REM sleep. Implications of these data for understanding the functional significance of alpha power during waking and sleeping are considered.
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Experienced Qigong meditators who regularly perform the exercises “Thinking of Nothing” and “Qigong” were studied with multichannel EEG source imaging during their meditations. The intracerebral localization of brain electric activity during the two meditation conditions was compared using sLORETA functional EEG tomography. Differences between conditions were assessed using t statistics (corrected for multiple testing) on the normalized and log-transformed current density values of the sLORETA images. In the EEG alpha-2 frequency, 125 voxels differed significantly; all were more active during “Qigong” than “Thinking of Nothing,” forming a single cluster in parietal Brodmann areas 5, 7, 31, and 40, all in the right hemisphere. In the EEG beta-1 frequency, 37 voxels differed significantly; all were more active during “Thinking of Nothing” than “Qigong,” forming a single cluster in prefrontal Brodmann areas 6, 8, and 9, all in the left hemisphere. Compared to combined initial–final no-task resting, “Qigong” showed activation in posterior areas whereas “Thinking of Nothing” showed activation in anterior areas. The stronger activity of posterior (right) parietal areas during “Qigong” and anterior (left) prefrontal areas during “Thinking of Nothing” may reflect a predominance of self-reference, attention and input-centered processing in the “Qigong” meditation, and of control-centered processing in the “Thinking of Nothing” meditation.

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.
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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.

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