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The present study investigated the premise that individual differences in autonomic physiology could be used to specify the nature and consequences of information processing taking place in medial prefrontal regions during cognitive reappraisal of unpleasant pictures. Neural (blood oxygenation level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging) and autonomic (electrodermal [EDA], pupil diameter, cardiac acceleration) signals were recorded simultaneously as twenty-six older people (ages 64-66 years) used reappraisal to increase, maintain, or decrease their responses to unpleasant pictures. EDA was higher when increasing and lower when decreasing compared to maintaining. This suggested modulation of emotional arousal by reappraisal. By contrast, pupil diameter and cardiac acceleration were higher when increasing and decreasing compared to maintaining. This suggested modulation of cognitive demand. Importantly, reappraisal-related activation (increase, decrease>maintain) in two medial prefrontal regions (dorsal medial frontal gyrus and dorsal cingulate gyrus) was correlated with greater cardiac acceleration (increase, decrease>maintain) and monotonic changes in EDA (increase>maintain>decrease). These data indicate that these two medial prefrontal regions are involved in the allocation of cognitive resources to regulate unpleasant emotion, and that they modulate emotional arousal in accordance with the regulatory goal. The emotional arousal effects were mediated by the right amygdala. Reappraisal-related activation in a third medial prefrontal region (subgenual anterior cingulate cortex) was not associated with similar patterns of change in any of the autonomic measures, thus highlighting regional specificity in the degree to which cognitive demand is reflected in medial prefrontal activation during reappraisal.
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<p>We conducted two fMRI studies to investigate the sensitivity of delay-period activity to changes in memory load during a delayed-recognition task for faces. In Experiment 1, each trial began with the presentation of a memory array consisting of one, two, or three faces that lasted for 3 sec. A 15-sec delay period followed during which no stimuli were present. The delay interval concluded with a one-face probe to which subjects made a button press response indicating whether this face was part of the memory array. Experiment 2 was similar in design except that the delay period was lengthened to 24 sec, and the memory array consisted of only one or three faces. We hypothesized that memory maintenance processes that spanned the delay interval would be revealed by their sensitivity to memory load. Long delay intervals were employed to temporally dissociate phasic activity engendered by the memory array from sustained activity reflecting maintenance. Regions of interest (ROIs) were defined anatomically for the superior frontal gyri (SFG), middle frontal gyri (MFG), and inferior frontal gyri (IFG), intraparietal sulci (IPS), and fusiform gyri (FFG) on a subject-by-subject basis. The mean time course of activity was determined for all voxels within these regions and for that subset of voxels within each ROI that correlated significantly with an empirically determined reference waveform. In both experiments, memory load significantly influenced activation 6--9 sec following the onset of the memory array with larger amplitude responses for higher load levels. Responses were greatest within MFG, IPS, and FFG. In both experiments, however, these load-sensitive differences declined over successive time intervals and were no longer significant at the end of the delay interval. Although insensitive to our load manipulation, sustained activation was present at the conclusion of the delay interval within MFG and other prefrontal regions. IPS delay activity returned to prestimulus baseline levels prior to the end of the delay period in Experiment 2, but not in Experiment 1. Within FFG, delay activity returned to prestimulus baseline levels prior to the conclusion of the delay interval in both experiments. Thus, while phasic processes engendered by the memory array were strongly affected by memory load, no evidence for load-sensitive delay-spanning maintenance processes was obtained.</p>
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A current limitation for imaging of brain function is the potential confound of anatomical differences or registration error, which may manifest via apparent functional "activation" for between-subject analyses. With respect to functional activations, underlying tissue mismatches can be regarded as a nuisance variable. We propose adding the probability of gray matter at a given voxel as a covariate (nuisance variable) in the analysis of voxelwise multisubject functional data using standard statistical techniques. A method is presented to assess the extent to which a functional activation can reliably be explained by underlying anatomical differences, and simultaneously, to assess the component of the functional activation which cannot be attributed to anatomical difference and thus is likely due to functional difference alone. Extension of the method to other intermodal imaging applications is discussed. Two exemplary data sets, one PET and one fMRI, are used to demonstrate the implementation and utility of this method, which apportions the relative contributions of anatomy and function for an apparent functional activation. The examples show two distinct types of results. First, a so-called functional activation may actually be caused by a systematic anatomical difference which, when modeled, diminishes the functional effect. In the second result type, including the anatomical differences in the model can account for a large component of otherwise unmodeled variance, yielding an increase in the functional effect cluster size and/or magnitude. In either case, ignoring the readily available structural information can lead to misinterpretation of functional results.
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Social contact promotes enhanced health and well-being, likely as a function of the social regulation of emotional responding in the face of various life stressors. For this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, 16 married women were subjected to the threat of electric shock while holding their husband's hand, the hand of an anonymous male experimenter, or no hand at all. Results indicated a pervasive attenuation of activation in the neural systems supporting emotional and behavioral threat responses when the women held their husband's hand. A more limited attenuation of activation in these systems occurred when they held the hand of a stranger. Most strikingly, the effects of spousal hand-holding on neural threat responses varied as a function of marital quality, with higher marital quality predicting less threat-related neural activation in the right anterior insula, superior frontal gyrus, and hypothalamus during spousal, but not stranger, hand-holding.
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Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting behavioral and social cognition, but there is little understanding about the link between the functional deficit and its underlying neuroanatomy. We applied a 2D version of voxel-based morphometry (VBM) in differentiating the white matter concentration of the corpus callosum for the group of 16 high functioning autistic and 12 normal subjects. Using the white matter density as an index for neural connectivity, autism is shown to exhibit less white matter concentration in the region of the genu, rostrum, and splenium removing the effect of age based on the general linear model (GLM) framework. Further, it is shown that the less white matter concentration in the corpus callosum in autism is due to hypoplasia rather than atrophy.
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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.

Meditation is a mental training, which involves attention and the ability to maintain focus on a particular object. In this study we have applied a specific attentional task to simply measure the performance of the participants with different levels of meditation experience, rather than evaluating meditation practice per se or task performance during meditation. Our objective was to evaluate the performance of regular meditators and non-meditators during an fMRI adapted Stroop Word-Colour Task (SWCT), which requires attention and impulse control, using a block design paradigm. We selected 20 right-handed regular meditators and 19 non-meditators matched for age, years of education and gender. Participants had to choose the colour (red, blue or green) of single words presented visually in three conditions: congruent, neutral and incongruent. Non-meditators showed greater activity than meditators in the right medial frontal, middle temporal, precentral and postcentral gyri and the lentiform nucleus during the incongruent conditions. No regions were more activated in meditators relative to non-meditators in the same comparison. Non-meditators showed an increased pattern of brain activation relative to regular meditators under the same behavioural performance level. This suggests that meditation training improves efficiency, possibly via improved sustained attention and impulse control.

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.
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The role of the amygdala in major depression was investigated. Resting regional cerebral metabolic rate (rCMRglu) was measured with [18F]fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (PET) in two samples of subjects using two different PET cameras. The samples consisted of 10 and 17 medication-free depressives and 11 and 13 controls, respectively. Using coregistration of PET and magnetic resonance images, regions were individually delineated for the amygdala and thalamus, the latter of which was used as a control region. Within the depressed groups, right amygdalar rCMRglu was positively correlated with negative affect. Thalamic rCMRglu was not related to negative affect, and amygdalar rCMRglu accounted for a significant portion of variance in depressives' negative affect scores over and above the contribution of thalamic rCMRglu.
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An emerging body of research suggests that mindfulness-based interventions may be beneficial for smoking cessation and the treatment of other addictive disorders. One way that mindfulness may facilitate smoking cessation is through the reduction of craving to smoking cues. The present work considers whether mindful attention can reduce self-reported and neural markers of cue-induced craving in treatment seeking smokers. Forty-seven (n = 47) meditation-naïve treatment-seeking smokers (12-h abstinent from smoking) viewed and made ratings of smoking and neutral images while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants were trained and instructed to view these images passively or with mindful attention. Results indicated that mindful attention reduced self-reported craving to smoking images, and reduced neural activity in a craving-related region of subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC). Moreover, a psychophysiological interaction analysis revealed that mindful attention reduced functional connectivity between sgACC and other craving-related regions compared to passively viewing smoking images, suggesting that mindfulness may decouple craving neurocircuitry when viewing smoking cues. These results provide an initial indication that mindful attention may describe a ‘bottom-up’ attention to one’s present moment experience in ways that can help reduce subjective and neural reactivity to smoking cues in smokers.

Studies have suggested that the default mode network is active during mind wandering, which is often experienced intermittently during sustained attention tasks. Conversely, an anticorrelated task-positive network is thought to subserve various forms of attentional processing. Understanding how these two systems work together is central for understanding many forms of optimal and sub-optimal task performance. Here we present a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations between mind wandering and attentional states derived from the practice of focused attention meditation. This model proposes four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering, awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. People who train in this style of meditation cultivate their abilities to monitor cognitive processes related to attention and distraction, making them well suited to report on these mental events. Fourteen meditation practitioners performed breath-focused meditation while undergoing fMRI scanning. When participants realized their mind had wandered, they pressed a button and returned their focus to the breath. The four intervals above were then constructed around these button presses. We hypothesized that periods of mind wandering would be associated with default mode activity, whereas cognitive processes engaged during awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention and sustained attention would engage attentional subnetworks. Analyses revealed activity in brain regions associated with the default mode during mind wandering, and in salience network regions during awareness of mind wandering. Elements of the executive network were active during shifting and sustained attention. Furthermore, activations during these cognitive phases were modulated by lifetime meditation experience. These findings support and extend theories about cognitive correlates of distributed brain networks.

Studies have suggested that the default mode network is active during mind wandering, which is often experienced intermittently during sustained attention tasks. Conversely, an anticorrelated task-positive network is thought to subserve various forms of attentional processing. Understanding how these two systems work together is central for understanding many forms of optimal and sub-optimal task performance. Here we present a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations between mind wandering and attentional states derived from the practice of focused attention meditation. This model proposes four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering, awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. People who train in this style of meditation cultivate their abilities to monitor cognitive processes related to attention and distraction, making them well suited to report on these mental events. Fourteen meditation practitioners performed breath-focused meditation while undergoing fMRI scanning. When participants realized their mind had wandered, they pressed a button and returned their focus to the breath. The four intervals above were then constructed around these button presses. We hypothesized that periods of mind wandering would be associated with default mode activity, whereas cognitive processes engaged during awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention and sustained attention would engage attentional subnetworks. Analyses revealed activity in brain regions associated with the default mode during mind wandering, and in salience network regions during awareness of mind wandering. Elements of the executive network were active during shifting and sustained attention. Furthermore, activations during these cognitive phases were modulated by lifetime meditation experience. These findings support and extend theories about cognitive correlates of distributed brain networks.
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Lesion and neuroimaging studies suggest the amygdala is important in the perception and production of negative emotion; however, the effects of emotion regulation on the amygdalar response to negative stimuli remain unknown. Using event-related fMRI, we tested the hypothesis that voluntary modulation of negative emotion is associated with changes in neural activity within the amygdala. Negative and neutral pictures were presented with instructions to either "maintain" the emotional response or "passively view" the picture without regulating the emotion. Each picture presentation was followed by a delay, after which subjects indicated how they currently felt via a response keypad. Consistent with previous reports, greater signal change was observed in the amygdala during the presentation of negative compared to neutral pictures. No significant effect of instruction was found during the picture presentation component of the trial. However, a prolonged increase in signal change was observed in the amygdala when subjects maintained the negative emotional response during the delay following negative picture offset. This increase in amygdalar signal due to the active maintenance of negative emotion was significantly correlated with subjects' self-reported dispositional levels of negative affect. These results suggest that consciously evoked cognitive mechanisms that alter the emotional response of the subject operate, at least in part, by altering the degree of neural activity within the amygdala.
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The impact of using motion estimates as covariates of no interest was examined in general linear modeling (GLM) of both block design and rapid event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data. The purpose of motion correction is to identify and eliminate artifacts caused by task-correlated motion while maximizing sensitivity to true activations. To optimize this process, a combination of motion correction approaches was applied to data from 33 subjects performing both a block-design and an event-related fMRI experiment, including analysis: (1) without motion correction; (2) with motion correction alone; (3) with motion-corrected data and motion covariates included in the GLM; and (4) with non-motion-corrected data and motion covariates included in the GLM. Inclusion of covariates was found to be generally useful for increasing the sensitivity of GLM results in the analysis of event-related data. When motion parameters were included in the GLM for event-related data, it made little difference if motion correction was actually applied to the data. For the block design, inclusion of motion covariates had a deleterious impact on GLM sensitivity when even moderate correlation existed between motion and the experimental design. Based on these results, we present a general strategy for block designs, event-related designs, and hybrid designs to identify and eliminate probable motion artifacts while maximizing sensitivity to true activations.
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<p>Recent studies have shown that the presence of a caring relational partner can attenuate neural responses to threat. Here we report reanalyzed data from Coan, Schaefer, and Davidson ( 2006 ), investigating the role of relational mutuality in the neural response to threat. Mutuality reflects the degree to which couple members show mutual interest in the sharing of internal feelings, thoughts, aspirations, and joys - a vital form of responsiveness in attachment relationships. We predicted that wives who were high (versus low) in perceived mutuality, and who attended the study session with their husbands, would show reduced neural threat reactivity in response to mild electric shocks. We also explored whether this effect would depend on physical contact (hand-holding). As predicted, we observed that higher mutuality scores corresponded with decreased neural threat responding in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and supplementary motor cortex. These effects were independent of hand-holding condition. These findings suggest that higher perceived mutuality corresponds with decreased self-regulatory effort and attenuated preparatory motor activity in response to threat cues, even in the absence of direct physical contact with social resources.</p>
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Anxiety is a debilitating symptom of many psychiatric disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and autism. Anxiety involves changes in both central and peripheral biology, yet extant functional imaging studies have focused exclusively on the brain. Here we show, using functional brain and cardiac imaging in sequential brain and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sessions in response to cues that predict either threat (a possible shock) or safety (no possibility of shock), that MR signal change in the amygdala and the prefrontal and insula cortices predicts cardiac contractility to the threat of shock. Participants with greater MR signal change in these regions show increased cardiac contractility to the threat versus safety condition, a measure of the sympathetic nervous system contribution to the myocardium. These findings demonstrate robust neural-cardiac coupling during induced anxiety and indicate that individuals with greater activation in brain regions identified with aversive emotion show larger magnitude cardiac contractility increases to threat.
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Asthma, like many inflammatory disorders, is affected by psychological stress, suggesting that reciprocal modulation may occur between peripheral factors regulating inflammation and central neural circuitry underlying emotion and stress reactivity. Despite suggestions that emotional factors may modulate processes of inflammation in asthma and, conversely, that peripheral inflammatory signals influence the brain, the neural circuitry involved remains elusive. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula to asthma-relevant emotional, compared with valence-neutral stimuli, is associated with markers of inflammation and airway obstruction in asthmatic subjects exposed to antigen. This activation accounts for > or =40% of the variance in the peripheral markers and suggests a neural basis for emotion-induced modulation of airway disease in asthma. The anterior cingulate cortex and insula have been implicated in the affective evaluation of sensory stimulation, regulation of homeostatic responses, and visceral perception. In individuals with asthma and other stress-related conditions, these brain regions may be hyperresponsive to disease-specific emotional and afferent physiological signals, which may contribute to the dysregulation of peripheral processes, such as inflammation.
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Meditation refers to a family of mental training practices that are designed to familiarize the practitioner with specific types of mental processes. One of the most basic forms of meditation is concentration meditation, in which sustained attention is focused on an object such as a small visual stimulus or the breath. In age-matched participants, using functional MRI, we found that activation in a network of brain regions typically involved in sustained attention showed an inverted u-shaped curve in which expert meditators (EMs) with an average of 19,000 h of practice had more activation than novices, but EMs with an average of 44,000 h had less activation. In response to distracter sounds used to probe the meditation, EMs vs. novices had less brain activation in regions related to discursive thoughts and emotions and more activation in regions related to response inhibition and attention. Correlation with hours of practice suggests possible plasticity in these mechanisms.
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Objective: Mindfulness is a process whereby one is aware and receptive to present moment experiences. Although mindfulness-enhancing interventions reduce pathological mental and physical health symptoms across a wide variety of conditions and diseases, the mechanisms underlying these effects remain unknown. Converging evidence from the mindfulness and neuroscience literature suggests that labeling affect may be one mechanism for these effects. Methods: Participants (n = 27) indicated trait levels of mindfulness and then completed an affect labeling task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. The labeling task consisted of matching facial expressions to appropriate affect words (affect labeling) or to gender-appropriate names (gender labeling control task). Results: After controlling for multiple individual difference measures, dispositional mindfulness was associated with greater widespread prefrontal cortical activation, and reduced bilateral amygdala activity during affect labeling, compared with the gender labeling control task. Further, strong negative associations were found between areas of prefrontal cortex and right amygdala responses in participants high in mindfulness but not in participants low in mindfulness. Conclusions: The present findings with a dispositional measure of mindfulness suggest one potential neurocognitive mechanism for understanding how mindfulness meditation interventions reduce negative affect and improve health outcomes, showing that mindfulness is associated with enhanced prefrontal cortical regulation of affect through labeling of negative affective stimuli.

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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'Mindfulness' is a capacity for heightened present-moment awareness that we all possess to a greater or lesser extent. Enhancing this capacity through training has been shown to alleviate stress and promote physical and mental well-being. As a consequence, interest in mindfulness is growing and so is the need to better understand it. This study employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the brain regions involved in state mindfulness and to shed light on its mechanisms of action. Significant signal decreases were observed during mindfulness meditation in midline cortical structures associated with interoception, including bilateral anterior insula, left ventral anterior cingulate cortex, right medial prefrontal cortex, and bilateral precuneus. Significant signal increase was noted in the right posterior cingulate cortex. These findings lend support to the theory that mindfulness achieves its positive outcomes through a process of disidentification.

OBJECTIVE: Happiness, sadness, and disgust are three emotions that differ in their valence (positive or negative) and associated action tendencies (approach or withdrawal). This study was designed to investigate the neuroanatomical correlates of these discrete emotions. METHOD: Twelve healthy female subjects were studied. Positron emission tomography and [15O]H2O were used to measure regional brain activity. There were 12 conditions per subject: happiness, sadness, and disgust and three control conditions, each induced by film and recall. Emotion and control tasks were alternated throughout. Condition order was pseudo-randomized and counterbalanced across subjects. Analyses focused on brain activity patterns for each emotion when combining film and recall data. RESULTS: Happiness, sadness, and disgust were each associated with increases in activity in the thalamus and medial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's area 9). These three emotions were also associated with activation of anterior and posterior temporal structures, primarily when induced by film. Recalled sadness was associated with increased activation in the anterior insula. Happiness was distinguished from sadness by greater activity in the vicinity of ventral mesial frontal cortex. CONCLUSIONS: While this study should be considered preliminary, it identifies regions of the brain that participate in happiness, sadness, and disgust, regions that distinguish between positive and negative emotions, and regions that depend on both the elicitor and valence of emotion or their interaction.
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Meditation comprises a series of practices mainly developed in eastern cultures aiming at controlling emotions and enhancing attentional processes. Several authors proposed to divide meditation techniques in focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM) techniques. Previous studies have reported differences in brain networks underlying FA and OM. On the other hand common activations across different meditative practices have been reported. Despite differences between forms of meditation and their underlying cognitive processes, we propose that all meditative techniques could share a central process that would be supported by a core network for meditation since their general common goal is to induce relaxation, regulating attention and developing an attitude of detachment from one’s own thoughts. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a quantitative meta-analysis based on activation likelihood estimation (ALE) of 10 neuroimaging studies (91 subjects) on different meditative techniques to evidence the core cortical network subserving meditation. We showed activation of basal ganglia (caudate body), limbic system (enthorinal cortex) and medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC). We discuss the functional role of these structures in meditation and we tentatively propose a neurocognitive model of meditation that could guide future research.

Selfhood and self-awareness, at least in humans, can be dissected into many levels. At one level, self-awareness describes a metacognitive aspect of consciousness wherein higher-order thought is directed through attentional focus on the self-object and self-related matters. This chapter explores the insights gained from neuroimaging studies into the brain substrates and mechanisms underlying such “high-level” self-referential processing. At another level, selfhood is reflected in self-recognition processes which discriminate self-related stimuli from other similar stimuli. Here, we examine the relevant neuroimaging evidence, focusing on self-face recognition as an exemplar. At a more fundamental level, we review what is known about the mental representation of the body, focusing on studies suggesting that a primary sense of self is ultimately derived from the neural representation of the body via interoception. These studies emphasize the continuous mapping of dynamic changes in internal state, whereby physiological demands and homeostatic imperatives dictate motivations and shape the contents of cognition. Here, converging neuroimaging evidence suggests that brain regions involved in representing internal physiological processes and making them available to conscious appraisal contribute to self-referential cognitions. This link is further apparent in the neural correlates of cognitive control and detachment techniques, such as mindfulness, that increasingly find clinical utility. Ultimately, inferences from neuroimaging regarding selfhood and self-awareness must cohere with evidence from lesion studies and with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the brain as a connected network generating self-representations via a range of overlapping mechanisms.

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.

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