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.
Although the co-occurrence of negative affect and pain is well recognized, the mechanism underlying their association is unclear. To examine whether a common self-regulatory ability impacts the experience of both emotion and pain, we integrated neuroimaging, behavioral, and physiological measures obtained from three assessments separated by substantial temporal intervals. Our results demonstrated that individual differences in emotion regulation ability, as indexed by an objective measure of emotional state, corrugator electromyography, predicted self-reported success while regulating pain. In both emotion and pain paradigms, the amygdala reflected regulatory success. Notably, we found that greater emotion regulation success was associated with greater change of amygdalar activity following pain regulation. Furthermore, individual differences in degree of amygdalar change following emotion regulation were a strong predictor of pain regulation success, as well as of the degree of amygdalar engagement following pain regulation. These findings suggest that common individual differences in emotion and pain regulatory success are reflected in a neural structure known to contribute to appraisal processes.
Background Early life stress (ELS) can compromise development, with higher amounts of adversity linked to behavioral problems. To understand this linkage, a growing body of research has examined two brain regions involved with socioemotional functioning—amygdala and hippocampus. Yet empirical studies have reported increases, decreases, and no differences within human and nonhuman animal samples exposed to different forms of ELS. This divergence in findings may stem from methodological factors, nonlinear effects of ELS, or both. Methods We completed rigorous hand-tracing of the amygdala and hippocampus in three samples of children who experienced different forms of ELS (i.e., physical abuse, early neglect, or low socioeconomic status). Interviews were also conducted with children and their parents or guardians to collect data about cumulative life stress. The same data were also collected in a fourth sample of comparison children who had not experienced any of these forms of ELS. Results Smaller amygdala volumes were found for children exposed to these different forms of ELS. Smaller hippocampal volumes were also noted for children who were physically abused or from low socioeconomic status households. Smaller amygdala and hippocampal volumes were also associated with greater cumulative stress exposure and behavioral problems. Hippocampal volumes partially mediated the relationship between ELS and greater behavioral problems. Conclusions This study suggests ELS may shape the development of brain areas involved with emotion processing and regulation in similar ways. Differences in the amygdala and hippocampus may be a shared diathesis for later negative outcomes related to ELS.
Losses in relationships, work, and other areas of life often accompany the physical discomfort of chronic pain. Often the depth and intensity of the grief associated with chronic pain are overlooked or possibly misdiagnosed and treated as depression. We used an 8-week mindfulness meditation program to determine its effectiveness in addressing the grieving process among 39 patients diagnosed with chronic pain. Eighteen patients volunteered to be in a comparison group. The study was conducted in a regional hospital's pain clinic and patients completed the Response to Loss Scale (measuring grief), the Beck Depression Inventory, and the State Trait Anxiety Inventory. Results indicated that the treatment group advanced significantly more quickly through the initial stages of grieving than the comparison group. In addition, the treatment group demonstrated significant reductions in depression and state anxiety, but no significant differences emerged when comparing groups on the final stages of grieving or trait anxiety.
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.
In this study, we tested the validity of 2 popular assumptions about empathy: (a) empathy can be enhanced by oxytocin, a neuropeptide known to be crucial in affiliative behavior, and (b) individual differences in prosocial behavior are positively associated with empathic brain responses. To do so, we measured brain activity in a double-blind placebo-controlled study of 20 male participants either receiving painful stimulation to their own hand (self condition) or observing their female partner receiving painful stimulation to her hand (other condition). Prosocial behavior was measured using a monetary economic interaction game with which participants classified as prosocial (N = 12) or selfish (N = 6), depending on whether they cooperated with another player. Empathy-relevant brain activation (anterior insula) was neither enhanced by oxytocin nor positively associated with prosocial behavior. However, oxytocin reduced amygdala activation when participants received painful stimulation themselves (in the nonsocial condition). Surprisingly, this effect was driven by "selfish" participants. The results suggest that selfish individuals may not be as rational and unemotional as usually suggested, their actions being determined by their feeling anxious rather than by reason.
OBJECTIVES: Previously it was shown that a brief yoga-based lifestyle intervention was efficacious in reducing oxidative stress and risk of chronic diseases even in a short duration. The objective of this study was to assess the efficacy of this intervention in reducing stress and inflammation in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases. DESIGN: This study reports preliminary results from a nonrandomized prospective ongoing study with pre-post design. SETTING/LOCATION: The study was conducted at the Integral Health Clinic, an outpatient facility conducting these yoga-based lifestyle intervention programs for prevention and management of chronic diseases. SUBJECTS: Patients with chronic inflammatory diseases and overweight/obese subjects were included while physically challenged, and those on other interventions were excluded from the study. INTERVENTION: A pretested intervention program included asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), stress management, group discussions, lectures, and individualized advice. OUTCOME MEASURES: There was a reduction in stress (plasma cortisol and β-endorphin) and inflammation (interleukin [IL]-6 and tumor necrosis factor [TNF]-α) at day 0 versus day 10. RESULTS: Eighty-six (86) patients (44 female, 42 male, 40.07 ± 13.91 years) attended this program. Overall, the mean level of cortisol decreased from baseline to day 10 (149.95 ± 46.07, 129.07 ± 33.30 ng/mL; p=0.001) while β-endorphins increased from baseline to day 10 (3.53 ± 0.88, 4.06 ± 0.79 ng/mL; p=0.024). Also, there was reduction from baseline to day 10 in mean levels of IL-6 (2.16 ± 0.42, 1.94 ± 0.10 pg/mL, p=0.036) and TNF-α (2.85 ± 0.59, 1.95 ± 0.32 pg/mL, p=0.002). CONCLUSIONS: This brief yoga-based lifestyle intervention reduced the markers of stress and inflammation as early as 10 days in patients with chronic diseases; however, complete results of this study will confirm whether this program has utility as complementary and alternative therapy.
Mindfulness meditation is an increasingly popular intervention for the treatment of physical illnesses and psychological difficulties. Using intervention strategies with mechanisms familiar to cognitive behavioral therapists, the principles and practice of mindfulness meditation offer promise for promoting many of the most basic elements of positive psychology. It is proposed that mindfulness meditation promotes positive adjustment by strengthening metacognitive skills and by changing schemas related to emotion, health, and illness. Additionally, the benefits of yoga as a mindfulness practice are explored. Even though much empirical work is needed to determine the parameters of mindfulness meditation's benefits, and the mechanisms by which it may achieve these benefits, theory and data thus far clearly suggest the promise of mindfulness as a link between positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapies.
OBJECTIVES: Given the demands of caring for chronically ill children, it is not surprising that caregivers often experience high levels of chronic stress. A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program may offer relief to these caregivers by providing tools for self-care and heath promotion that otherwise may be lacking. METHODS: MBSR classes were offered without restriction to parents of children attending various clinics at a large urban children's medical centre. Caregivers completed the Profile of Mood States (POMS) and Symptoms of Stress Inventory (SOSI) both before and after program participation. RESULTS: Forty-four caregivers participated in one of seven group MBSR sessions that were offered between August 2001 and February 2004. Most were mothers of children with special needs and various chronic conditions, who had been diagnosed an average of 7 years previous. Prior to the intervention, caregivers reported very high levels of stress and mood disturbance. These decreased substantially over the 8-week program, with an overall reduction in stress symptoms of 32% (p < .001), and in total mood disturbance of 56% (p < .001). CONCLUSIONS: This brief MBSR program for caregivers of chronically ill children was successful in significantly decreasing substantial stress symptoms and mood disturbance. Further studies would benefit from using more rigorous methodology and applying the program to other groups of chronically stressed caregivers.
Youth in underserved, urban communities are at risk for a range of negative outcomes related to stress, including social-emotional difficulties, behavior problems, and poor academic performance. Mindfulness-based approaches may improve adjustment among chronically stressed and disadvantaged youth by enhancing self-regulatory capacities. This paper reports findings from a pilot randomized controlled trial assessing the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness and yoga intervention. Four urban public schools were randomized to an intervention or wait-list control condition (n = 97 fourth and fifth graders, 60.8% female). It was hypothesized that the 12-week intervention would reduce involuntary stress responses and improve mental health outcomes and social adjustment. Stress responses, depressive symptoms, and peer relations were assessed at baseline and post-intervention. Findings suggest the intervention was attractive to students, teachers, and school administrators and that it had a positive impact on problematic responses to stress including rumination, intrusive thoughts, and emotional arousal.
Two hundred twenty-five chronic pain patients were studied following training in mindfulness meditation. Large and significant overall improvements were recorded post-intervention in physical and psychological status. These gains were maintained at follow-up in the majority of subjects. Follow-up times ranged from 2.5-48 months. Status on the McUill Melzack Pain Rating Index (PRI). however, tended to revert to preintervention levels following the intervention. Most subjects reported a high degree of adherence with the meditation techniques, maintenance of improved status over time, and a high degree of importance attributed to the training program. We conclude that such training can have long-term benefit for chronic pain patients.
The degree to which perceived controllability alters the way a stressor is experienced varies greatly among individuals. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural activation associated with individual differences in the impact of perceived controllability on self-reported pain perception. Subjects with greater activation in response to uncontrollable (UC) rather than controllable (C) pain in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC), periaqueductal gray (PAG), and posterior insula/SII reported higher levels of pain during the UC versus C conditions. Conversely, subjects with greater activation in the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) in anticipation of pain in the UC versus C conditions reported less pain in response to UC versus C pain. Activation in the VLPFC was significantly correlated with the acceptance and denial subscales of the COPE inventory [Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267-283, 1989], supporting the interpretation that this anticipatory activation was associated with an attempt to cope with the emotional impact of uncontrollable pain. A regression model containing the two prefrontal clusters (VLPFC and pACC) predicted 64% of the variance in pain rating difference, with activation in the two additional regions (PAG and insula/SII) predicting almost no additional variance. In addition to supporting the conclusion that the impact of perceived controllability on pain perception varies highly between individuals, these findings suggest that these effects are primarily top-down, driven by processes in regions of the prefrontal cortex previously associated with cognitive modulation of pain and emotion regulation.
Study Objective To assess feasibility, and collect preliminary data for a subsequent randomized, sham-controlled trial to evaluate Japanese-style acupuncture for reducing chronic pelvic pain and improving health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in adolescents with endometriosis. Design Randomized, sham-controlled trial. Settings Tertiary-referral hospital. Participants Eighteen young women (13–22y) with laparoscopically-diagnosed endometriosis-related chronic pelvic pain. Interventions A Japanese style of acupuncture and a sham acupuncture control. Sixteen treatments were administered over 8 weeks. Main Outcome Measures Protocol feasibility, recruitment numbers, pain not associated with menses or intercourse, and multiple HRQOL instruments including Endometriosis Health Profile, Pediatric Quality of Life, Perceived Stress, and Activity Limitation. Results Fourteen participants (out of 18 randomized) completed the study per protocol. Participants in the active acupuncture group (n = 9) experienced an average 4.8 (SD = 2.4) point reduction on a 11 point scale (62%) in pain after 4 weeks, which differed significantly from the control group's (n = 5) average reduction of 1.4 (SD = 2.1) points (P = 0.004). Reduction in pain in the active group persisted through a 6-month assessment; however, after 4 weeks, differences between the active and control group decreased and were not statistically significant. All HRQOL measures indicated greater improvements in the active acupuncture group compared to the control; however, the majority of these trends were not statistically significant. No serious adverse events were reported. Conclusion Preliminary estimates indicate that Japanese-style acupuncture may be an effective, safe, and well-tolerated adjunct therapy for endometriosis-related pelvic pain in adolescents. A more definitive trial evaluating Japanese-style acupuncture in this population is both feasible and warranted.
The aim of mindfulness meditation is to develop present-focused, non-judgmental, attention. Therefore, experience in meditation should be associated with less anticipation and negative appraisal of pain. In this study we compared a group of individuals with meditation experience to a control group to test whether any differences in the affective appraisal of pain could be explained by lower anticipatory neural processing. Anticipatory and pain-evoked ERPs and reported pain unpleasantness were recorded in response to laser stimuli of matched subjective intensity between the two groups. ERP data were analysed after source estimation with LORETA. No group effects were found on the laser energies used to induce pain. More experienced meditators perceived the pain as less unpleasant relative to controls, with meditation experience correlating inversely with unpleasantness ratings. ERP source data for anticipation showed that in meditators, lower activity in midcingulate cortex relative to controls was related to the lower unpleasantness ratings, and was predicted by lifetime meditation experience. Meditators also reversed the normal positive correlation between medial prefrontal cortical activity and pain unpleasantness during anticipation. Meditation was also associated with lower activity in S2 and insula during the pain-evoked response, although the experiment could not disambiguate this activity from the preceding anticipation response. Our data is consistent with the hypothesis that meditation reduces the anticipation and negative appraisal of pain, but effects on pain-evoked activity are less clear and may originate from preceding anticipatory activity. Further work is required to directly test the causal relationship between meditation, pain anticipation, and pain experience.
A growing body of evidence suggests that empathy for pain is underpinned by neural structures that are also involved in the direct experience of pain. In order to assess the consistency of this finding, an image-based meta-analysis of nine independent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) investigations and a coordinate-based meta-analysis of 32 studies that had investigated empathy for pain using fMRI were conducted. The results indicate that a core network consisting of bilateral anterior insular cortex and medial/anterior cingulate cortex is associated with empathy for pain. Activation in these areas overlaps with activation during directly experienced pain, and we link their involvement to representing global feeling states and the guidance of adaptive behavior for both self- and other-related experiences. Moreover, the image-based analysis demonstrates that depending on the type of experimental paradigm this core network was co-activated with distinct brain regions: While viewing pictures of body parts in painful situations recruited areas underpinning action understanding (inferior parietal/ventral premotor cortices) to a stronger extent, eliciting empathy by means of abstract visual information about the other's affective state more strongly engaged areas associated with inferring and representing mental states of self and other (precuneus, ventral medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal cortex, and temporo-parietal junction). In addition, only the picture-based paradigms activated somatosensory areas, indicating that previous discrepancies concerning somatosensory activity during empathy for pain might have resulted from differences in experimental paradigms. We conclude that social neuroscience paradigms provide reliable and accurate insights into complex social phenomena such as empathy and that meta-analyses of previous studies are a valuable tool in this endeavor.
Objective: Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a structured group program that employs mindfulness meditation to alleviate suffering associated with physical, psychosomatic and psychiatric disorders. The program, nonreligious and nonesoteric, is based upon a systematic procedure to develop enhanced awareness of moment-to-moment experience of perceptible mental processes. The approach assumes that greater awareness will provide more veridical perception, reduce negative affect and improve vitality and coping. In the last two decades, a number of research reports appeared that seem to support many of these claims. We performed a comprehensive review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished studies of health-related studies related to MBSR. Methods: Sixty-four empirical studies were found, but only 20 reports met criteria of acceptable quality or relevance to be included in the meta-analysis. Reports were excluded due to (I) insufficient information about interventions, (2) poor quantitative health evaluation, (3) inadequate statistical analysis, (4) mindfulness not being the central component of intervention, or (5) the setting of intervention or sample composition deviating too widely from the health-related MBSR program. Acceptable studies covered a wide spectrum of clinical populations (e.g., pain, cancer, heart disease, depression, and anxiety), as well as stressed nonclinical groups. Both controlled and observational investigations were included. Standardized measures of physical and mental well-being constituted the dependent variables of the analysis. Results: Overall, both controlled and uncontrolled studies showed similar effect sizes of approximately 0.5 (P <.0001) with homogeneity of distribution. Conclusion: Although derived from a relatively small number of studies, these results suggest that MBSR may help a broad range of individuals to cope with their clinical and nonclinical problems.
Objective This study compared changes in bodily pain, health-related quality of life (HRQoL), and psychological symptoms during an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program among groups of participants with different chronic pain conditions. Methods From 1997-2003, a longitudinal investigation of chronic pain patients ( n=133) was nested within a larger prospective cohort study of heterogeneous patients participating in MBSR at a university-based Integrative Medicine center. Measures included the Short-Form 36 Health Survey and Symptom Checklist-90-Revised. Paired t tests were used to compare pre–post changes on outcome measures. Differences in treatment effect sizes were compared as a function of chronic pain condition. Correlations were examined between outcome parameters and home meditation practice. Results Outcomes differed in significance and magnitude across common chronic pain conditions. Diagnostic subgroups of patients with arthritis, back/neck pain, or two or more comorbid pain conditions demonstrated a significant change in pain intensity and functional limitations due to pain following MBSR. Participants with arthritis showed the largest treatment effects for HRQoL and psychological distress. Patients with chronic headache/migraine experienced the smallest improvement in pain and HRQoL. Patients with fibromyalgia had the smallest improvement in psychological distress. Greater home meditation practice was associated with improvement on several outcome measures, including overall psychological distress, somatization symptoms, and self-rated health, but not pain and other quality of life scales. Conclusion MBSR treatment effects on pain, HRQoL and psychological well-being vary as a function of chronic pain condition and compliance with home meditation practice.
Mindfulness-based approaches are among the most innovative and interesting new approaches to mental health treatment. Mindfulness refers to patients developing an "awareness of present experience with acceptance." Interest in them is widespread, with presentations and workshops drawing large audiences all over the US and many other countries. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to the best-researched mindfulness-based treatments. It emphasizes detailed clinical illustration providing a close-up view of how these treatments are conducted, the skills required of therapists, and how they work. The book also has a solid foundation in theory and research and shows clearly how these treatments can be understood using accepted psychological principles and concepts. The evidence base for these treatments is concisely reviewed.* Comprehensive introduction to the best-researched mindfulness-based treatments* Covers wide range of problems & disorders (anxiety, depression, eating, psychosis, personality disorders, stress, pain, relationship problems, etc)* Discusses a wide range of populations (children, adolescents, older adults, couples)* Includes wide range of settings (outpatient, inpatient, medical, mental health, workplace)* Clinically rich, illustrative case study in every chapter* International perspectives represented (authors from US, Canada, Britain, Sweden)
This article presents a conceptual model for the mindfulness-based psychotherapeutic treatment of chronic pain. It describes the process of mindfulness meditation and places it in the context of a practical model for conceptualizing pain. It presents case vignettes on the phenomenology and treatment of chronic pain. Resources for mindfulness are presented.
The cognitive modulation of pain is influenced by a number of factors ranging from attention, beliefs, conditioning, expectations, mood, and the regulation of emotional responses to noxious sensory events. Recently, mindfulness meditation has been found attenuate pain through some of these mechanisms including enhanced cognitive and emotional control, as well as altering the contextual evaluation of sensory events. This review discusses the brain mechanisms involved in mindfulness meditation-related pain relief across different meditative techniques, expertise and training levels, experimental procedures, and neuroimaging methodologies. Converging lines of neuroimaging evidence reveal that mindfulness meditation-related pain relief is associated with unique appraisal cognitive processes depending on expertise level and meditation tradition. Moreover, it is postulated that mindfulness meditation-related pain relief may share a common final pathway with other cognitive techniques in the modulation of pain.
Social neuro-science has recently started to investigate the neuronal mechanisms underlying our ability to understand the mental and emotional states of others. In this review, imaging research conducted on theory of mind (ToM or mentalizing) and empathy is selectively reviewed. It is proposed that even though these abilities are often used as synonyms in the literature these capacities represent different abilities that rely on different neuronal circuitry. ToM refers to our ability to understand mental states such as intentions, goals and beliefs, and relies on structures of the temporal lobe and the pre-frontal cortex. In contrast, empathy refers to our ability to share the feelings (emotions and sensations) of others and relies on sensorimotor cortices as well as limbic and para-limbic structures. It is further argued that the concept of empathy as used in lay terms refers to a multi-level construct extending from simple forms of emotion contagion to complex forms of cognitive perspective taking. Future research should investigate the relative contribution of empathizing and mentalizing abilities in the understanding of other people's states. Finally, it is suggested that the abilities to understand other people's thoughts and to share their affects display different ontogenetic trajectories reflecting the different developmental paths of their underlying neural structures. In particular, empathy develops much earlier than mentalizing abilities, because the former relys on limbic structures which develop early in ontogeny, whereas the latter rely on lateral temporal lobe and pre-frontal structures which are among the last to fully mature.
Concepts originating from ancient Eastern texts are now being explored scientifically, leading to new insights into mind/brain function. Meditative practice, often viewed as an emotion regulation strategy, has been associated with pain reduction, low pain sensitivity, chronic pain improvement, and thickness of pain-related cortices. Zen meditation is unlike previously studied emotion regulation techniques; more akin to ‘no appraisal’ than ‘reappraisal’. This implies the cognitive evaluation of pain may be involved in the pain-related effects observed in meditators. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a thermal pain paradigm we show that practitioners of Zen, compared to controls, reduce activity in executive, evaluative and emotion areas during pain (prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus). Meditators with the most experience showed the largest activation reductions. Simultaneously, meditators more robustly activated primary pain processing regions (anterior cingulate cortex, thalamus, insula). Importantly, the lower pain sensitivity in meditators was strongly predicted by reductions in functional connectivity between executive and pain-related cortices. Results suggest a functional decoupling of the cognitive-evaluative and sensory-discriminative dimensions of pain, possibly allowing practitioners to view painful stimuli more neutrally. The activation pattern is remarkably consistent with the mindset described in Zen and the notion of mindfulness. Our findings contrast and challenge current concepts of pain and emotion regulation and cognitive control; commonly thought to manifest through increased activation of frontal executive areas. We suggest it is possible to self-regulate in a more ‘passive’ manner, by reducing higher-order evaluative processes, as demonstrated here by the disengagement of anterior brain systems in meditators.
Pain can be modulated by several cognitive techniques, typically involving increased cognitive control and decreased sensory processing. Recently, it has been demonstrated that pain can also be attenuated by mindfulness. Here, we investigate the underlying brain mechanisms by which the state of mindfulness reduces pain. Mindfulness practitioners and controls received unpleasant electric stimuli in the functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner during a mindfulness and a control condition. Mindfulness practitioners, but not controls, were able to reduce pain unpleasantness by 22% and anticipatory anxiety by 29% during a mindful state. In the brain, this reduction was associated with decreased activation in the lateral prefrontal cortex and increased activation in the right posterior insula during stimulation and increased rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation during the anticipation of pain. These findings reveal a unique mechanism of pain modulation, comprising increased sensory processing and decreased cognitive control, and are in sharp contrast to established pain modulation mechanisms.
The response to painful stimulation depends not only on peripheral nociceptive input but also on the cognitive and affective context in which pain occurs. One contextual variable that affects the neural and behavioral response to nociceptive stimulation is the degree to which pain is perceived to be controllable. Previous studies indicate that perceived controllability affects pain tolerance, learning and motivation, and the ability to cope with intractable pain, suggesting that it has profound effects on neural pain processing. To date, however, no neuroimaging studies have assessed these effects. We manipulated the subjects' belief that they had control over a nociceptive stimulus, while the stimulus itself was held constant. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that pain that was perceived to be controllable resulted in attenuated activation in the three neural areas most consistently linked with pain processing: the anterior cingulate, insular, and secondary somatosensory cortices. This suggests that activation at these sites is modulated by cognitive variables, such as perceived controllability, and that pain imaging studies may therefore overestimate the degree to which these responses are stimulus driven and generalizable across cognitive contexts.
The experience of pain arises from both physiological and psychological factors, including one's beliefs and expectations. Thus, placebo treatments that have no intrinsic pharmacological effects may produce analgesia by altering expectations. However, controversy exists regarding whether placebos alter sensory pain transmission, pain affect, or simply produce compliance with the suggestions of investigators. In two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments, we found that placebo analgesia was related to decreased brain activity in pain-sensitive brain regions, including the thalamus, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex, and was associated with increased activity during anticipation of pain in the prefrontal cortex, providing evidence that placebos alter the experience of pain.