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Dozens of studies in different nations have revealed that socioeconomic status only weakly predicts an individual's subjective well-being (SWB). These results imply that although the pursuit of social status is a fundamental human motivation, achieving high status has little impact on one's SWB. However, we propose that sociometric status-the respect and admiration one has in face-to-face groups (e.g., among friends or coworkers)-has a stronger effect on SWB than does socioeconomic status. Using correlational, experimental, and longitudinal methodologies, four studies found consistent evidence for a local-ladder effect: Sociometric status significantly predicted satisfaction with life and the experience of positive and negative emotions. Longitudinally, as sociometric status rose or fell, SWB rose or fell accordingly. Furthermore, these effects were driven by feelings of power and social acceptance. Overall, individuals' sociometric status matters more to their SWB than does their socioeconomic status.
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<p>This article explores Asian traditions of meditation, with particular attention to Buddhism as it was developed in ancient India. It delineates a core curriculum, initially developed in monastic institutions of higher education, that has been most fully preserved in Tibet. It then explores how this curriculum might be adapted so that it can help support a genuinely humanistic education within American higher education. This exploration focuses not only on the inherent values of Buddhist meditation but also on practical strategies that can be used to introduce these values in the academic curriculum and in the broader campus life.</p>

<p>This article describes the design and advocacy of the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jazz and Contemplative Studies curriculum at The University of Michigan School of Music. The curriculum combines meditation practice and related studies with jazz and overall musical training and is part of a small but growing movement in academia that seeks to integrate contemplative disciplines within the educational process. The article considers issues such as the structure of the curriculum, the reconciliation of contemplative studies and conventional notions of academic rigor, the avoidance of possible conflicts between church and state, and other challenges encountered in gaining support for this plan, after weeks of intensive debate, from a 2/3 majority of the faculty.</p>

Those with high baseline stress levels are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's Disease (AD). While meditation may reduce stress and alter the hippocampus and default mode network (DMN), little is known about its impact in these populations. Our objective was to conduct a "proof of concept" trial to determine whether Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) would improve DMN connectivity and reduce hippocampal atrophy among adults with MCI. 14 adults with MCI were randomized to MBSR vs. usual care and underwent resting state fMRI at baseline and follow-up. Seed based functional connectivity was applied using posterior cingulate cortex as seed. Brain morphometry analyses were performed using FreeSurfer. The results showed that after the intervention, MBSR participants had increased functional connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex and bilateral medial prefrontal cortex and left hippocampus compared to controls. In addition, MBSR participants had trends of less bilateral hippocampal volume atrophy than control participants. These preliminary results indicate that in adults with MCI, MBSR may have a positive impact on the regions of the brain most related to MCI and AD. Further research with larger sample sizes and longer-follow-up are needed to further investigate the results from this pilot study.

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the mindfulness construct and the mental health benefits associated with mindfulness-based programmes, the relation between mindfulness and its proposed core component attention was studied. Buddhist and Western mindfulness meditators were compared with non-meditators on tasks of sustained (SART) and executive (the Stroop Task) attention. Relations between self-reported mindfulness (FFMQ) and sustained and executive attention were also analysed. No significant differences were found between meditators and non-meditators either in sustained or executive attention. High scores on the FFMQ total scale and on Describe were related to fewer SART errors. High scores on Describe were also related to low Stroop interference. Mindfulness meditators may have an increased awareness of internal processes and the ability to quickly attend to them but this type of refined attentional ability does not seem to be related to performance on attention tests requiring responses to external targets.

The capacity to stabilize the content of attention over time varies among individuals, and its impairment is a hallmark of several mental illnesses. Impairments in sustained attention in patients with attention disorders have been associated with increased trial-to-trial variability in reaction time and event-related potential deficits during attention tasks. At present, it is unclear whether the ability to sustain attention and its underlying brain circuitry are transformable through training. Here, we show, with dichotic listening task performance and electroencephalography, that training attention, as cultivated by meditation, can improve the ability to sustain attention. Three months of intensive meditation training reduced variability in attentional processing of target tones, as indicated by both enhanced theta-band phase consistency of oscillatory neural responses over anterior brain areas and reduced reaction time variability. Furthermore, those individuals who showed the greatest increase in neural response consistency showed the largest decrease in behavioral response variability. Notably, we also observed reduced variability in neural processing, in particular in low-frequency bands, regardless of whether the deviant tone was attended or unattended. Focused attention meditation may thus affect both distracter and target processing, perhaps by enhancing entrainment of neuronal oscillations to sensory input rhythms, a mechanism important for controlling the content of attention. These novel findings highlight the mechanisms underlying focused attention meditation and support the notion that mental training can significantly affect attention and brain function.
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This pilot study tested the efficacy of a brief intervention using motivational interviewing (MI) plus mindfulness meditation (MM) to reduce marijuana use among young adult females. Thirty-four female marijuana users between the ages of 18 and 29 were randomized to either the intervention group (n = 22), consisting of two sessions of MI-MM, or an assessment-only control group (n = 12). The participants' marijuana use was assessed at baseline and at 1, 2, and 3 months posttreatment. Fixed-effects regression modeling was used to analyze treatment effects. Participants randomized to the intervention group were found to use marijuana on 6.15 (z = -2.42, p = .015), 7.81 (z = -2.78, p = .005), and 6.83 (z = -2.23, p = .026) fewer days at Months 1, 2, and 3, respectively, than controls. Findings from this pilot study provide preliminary evidence for the feasibility and effectiveness of a brief MI-MM for young adult female marijuana users.
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In 2 daily experience studies and a laboratory study, the authors test predictions from approach-avoidance motivational theory to understand how dating couples can maintain feelings of relationship satisfaction in their daily lives and over the course of time. Approach goals were associated with increased relationship satisfaction on a daily basis and over time, particularly when both partners were high in approach goals. Avoidance goals were associated with decreases in relationship satisfaction over time, and people were particularly dissatisfied when they were involved with a partner with high avoidance goals. People high in approach goals and their partners were rated as relatively more satisfied and responsive to a partner's needs by outside observers in the lab, whereas people with high avoidance goals and their partners were rated as less satisfied and responsive. Positive emotions mediated the link between approach goals and daily satisfaction in both studies, and responsiveness to the partner's needs was an additional behavioral mechanism in Study 2. Implications of these findings for approach-avoidance motivational theory and for the maintenance of satisfying relationships over time are discussed.
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Mystical texts and the visual arts have contributed immeasurably to shaping individual and collective conceptions of the spiritual in modern and postmodern culture. By integrating rigorous textual analysis with direct experiential practices, we will bring a multifaceted approach to bear on the relationship between aesthetic, intellectual and mystical creativity—that is, between the often conflicting domains of spiritual experience, intellectual analysis, and beauty—in order to gain insight into the ways in which these distinctive yet overlapping modalities of knowledge have integrally shaped developments in high culture, sacred practice and visual representation. Drawing on the combined methodological perspectives of Art History and Religious Studies, we will examine the ways in which the contemplative and experiential practices of museum viewing, ritual performances, trans-cultural encounter and focused reading and writing activities can all serve as powerful acts of human self-creation.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to probe the neural circuitry associated with reactivity to negative and positive affective stimuli in patients with major depressive disorder before treatment and after 2 and 8 weeks of treatment with venlafaxine. Relations between baseline neural activation and response to treatment were also evaluated. METHOD: Patients with major depressive disorder (N=12) and healthy comparison subjects (N=5) were scanned on three occasions, during which trials of alternating blocks of affective and neutral pictorial visual stimuli were presented. Symptoms were evaluated at each testing occasion, and both groups completed self-report measures of mood. Statistical parametric mapping was used to examine the fMRI data with a focus on the group-by-time interactions. RESULTS: Patients showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms with treatment. Group-by-time interactions in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli were found in the left insular cortex and the left anterior cingulate. At baseline, both groups showed bilateral activation in the visual cortices, lateral prefrontal cortex, and amygdala in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli, with patients showing greater activation in the visual cortex and less activation in the left lateral prefrontal cortex. Patients with greater relative anterior cingulate activation at baseline in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli showed the most robust treatment response. CONCLUSIONS: The findings underscore the importance of the neural circuitry activated by negative affect in depression and indicate that components of this circuitry can be changed within 2 weeks of treatment with antidepressant medication.
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<p>BACKGROUND: Increasingly, researchers attend to both positive and negative aspects of mental health. Such distinctions call for clarification of whether psychological well-being and ill-being comprise opposite ends of a bipolar continuum, or are best construed as separate, independent dimensions of mental health. Biology can help resolve this query--bipolarity predicts 'mirrored' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being correlate similarly with biomarkers, but show opposite directional signs), whereas independence predicts 'distinct' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being have different biological signatures). METHODS: Multiple aspects of psychological well-being (eudaimonic, hedonic) and ill-being (depression, anxiety, anger) were assessed in a sample of aging women (n = 135, mean age = 74) on whom diverse neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA-S) and cardiovascular factors (weight, waist-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin) were also measured. RESULTS: Measures of psychological well-being and ill-being were significantly linked with numerous biomarkers, with some associations being more strongly evident for respondents aged 75+. Outcomes for seven biomarkers supported the distinct hypothesis, while findings for only two biomarkers supported the mirrored hypothesis. CONCLUSION: This research adds to the growing literature on how psychological well-being and mental maladjustment are instantiated in biology. Population-based inquiries and challenge studies constitute important future directions.</p>
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BACKGROUND: Anhedonia, a reduced ability to experience pleasure, is a chief symptom of major depressive disorder and is related to reduced frontostriatal connectivity when attempting to upregulate positive emotion. The present study examined another facet of positive emotion regulation associated with anhedonia-namely, the downregulation of positive affect-and its relation to prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity. METHODS: Neuroimaging data were collected from 27 individuals meeting criteria for major depressive disorder as they attempted to suppress positive emotion during a positive emotion regulation task. Their PFC activation pattern was compared with the PFC activation pattern exhibited by 19 healthy control subjects during the same task. Anhedonia scores were collected at three time points: at baseline (time 1), 8 weeks after time 1 (i.e., time 2), and 6 months after time 1 (i.e., time 3). Prefrontal cortex activity at time 1 was used to predict change in anhedonia over time. Analyses were conducted utilizing hierarchical linear modeling software. RESULTS: Depressed individuals who could not inhibit positive emotion-evinced by reduced right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activity during attempts to dampen their experience of positive emotion in response to positive visual stimuli-exhibited a steeper anhedonia reduction slope between baseline and 8 weeks of treatment with antidepressant medication (p < .05). Control subjects showed a similar trend between baseline and time 3. CONCLUSIONS: To reduce anhedonia, it may be necessary to teach individuals how to counteract the functioning of an overactive pleasure-dampening prefrontal inhibitory system.
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<p>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.</p>
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Given the central role of the amygdala in fear perception and expression and its likely abnormality in affective disorders and autism, there is great demand for a technique to measure differences in neurochemistry of the human amygdala. Unfortunately, it is also a technically complex target for magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) due to a small volume, high field inhomogeneity and a shared boundary with hippocampus, which can undergo opposite changes in response to stress. We attempted to achieve reliable PRESS-localized single-voxel MRS at 3T of the isolated human amygdala by using anatomy to guide voxel size and location. We present data from 106 amygdala-MRS sessions from 58 volunteers aged 10 to 52 years, including two tests of one-week stability and a feasibility study in an adolescent sample. Our main outcomes were indices of spectral quality, repeated measurement variability (within- and between-subject standard deviations), and sensitivity to stable individual differences measured by intra-class correlation (ICC). We present metrics of amygdala-MRS reliability for n-acetyl-aspartate, creatine, choline, myo-Inositol, and glutamate+glutamine (Glx). We found that scan quality suffers an age-related difference in field homogeneity and modified our protocol to compensate. We further identified an effect of anatomical inclusion near the endorhinal sulcus, a region of high synaptic density, that contributes up to 29% of within-subject variability across 4 sessions (n=14). Remaining variability in line width but not signal-to-noise also detracts from reliability. Statistical correction for partial inclusion of these strong neurochemical gradients decreases n-acetyl-aspartate reliability from an intraclass correlation of 0.84 to 0.56 for 7-minute acquisitions. This suggests that systematic differences in anatomical inclusion can contribute greatly to apparent neurochemical concentrations and could produce false group differences in experimental studies. Precise, anatomically-based prescriptions that avoid age-related sources of inhomogeneity and use longer scan times may permit study of individual differences in neurochemistry throughout development in this late-maturing structure.
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