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Past research has shown that rumination exacerbates dysphoric mood whereas distraction attenuates it. This research examined whether the practice of mindfulness meditation could reduce dysphoric mood even more effectively than distraction. A dysphoric mood was induced in 139 female and 38 male participants who were then randomly assigned to a rumination, distraction, or meditation condition. As predicted, participants instructed to meditate reported significantly lower levels of negative mood than those in either of the two other conditions. Distraction was associated with a lessening of dysphoric mood when compared to rumination but was not as effective as mindfulness meditation. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Different forms of learning and memory depend on functionally and anatomically separable neural circuits [Squire, L. R. (1992) Psychol. Rev. 99, 195–231]. Declarative memory relies on a medial temporal lobe system, whereas habit learning relies on the striatum [Cohen, N. J. & Eichenbaum, H. (1993) Memory, Amnesia, and the Hippocampal System (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA)]. How these systems are engaged to optimize learning and behavior is not clear. Here, we present results from functional neuroimaging showing that the presence of a demanding secondary task during learning modulates the degree to which subjects solve a problem using either declarative memory or habit learning. Dual-task conditions did not reduce accuracy but reduced the amount of declarative learning about the task. Medial temporal lobe activity was correlated with task performance and declarative knowledge after learning under single-task conditions, whereas performance was correlated with striatal activity after dual-task learning conditions. These results demonstrate a fundamental difference in these memory systems in their sensitivity to concurrent distraction. The results are consistent with the notion that declarative and habit learning compete to mediate task performance, and they suggest that the presence of distraction can bias this competition. These results have implications for learning in multitask situations, suggesting that, even if distraction does not decrease the overall level of learning, it can result in the acquisition of knowledge that can be applied less flexibly in new situations.

Background : Although mindfulness meditation interventions have recently shown benefits for reducing stress in various populations, little is known about their relative efficacy compared with relaxation interventions. Purpose : This randomized controlled trial examines the effects of a 1-month mindfulness meditation versus somatic relaxation training as compared to a control group in 83 students (M age=25; 16 men and 67 women) reporting distress. Method : Psychological distress, positive states of mind, distractive and ruminative thoughts and behaviors, and spiritual experience were measured, while controlling for social desirability. Results : Hierarchical linear modeling reveals that both meditation and relaxation groups experienced significant decreases in distress as well as increases in positive mood states over time, compared with the control group (p<.05 in all cases). There were no significant differences between meditation and relaxation on distress and positive mood states over time. Effect sizes for distress were large for both meditation and relaxation (Cohen’s d=1.36 and .91, respectively), whereas the meditation group showed a larger effect size for positive states of mind than relaxation (Cohen’s d=.71 and .25, respectively). The meditation group also demonstrated significant pre-post decreases in both distractive and ruminative thoughts/behaviors compared with the control group (p<.04 in all cases; Cohen’s d=.57 for rumination and .25 for distraction for the meditation group), with mediation models suggesting that mindfulness meditation’s effects on reducing distress were partially mediated by reducing rumination. No significant effects were found for spiritual experience. Conclusions : The data suggest that compared with a no-treatment control, brief training in mindfulness meditation or somatic relaxation reduces distress and improves positive mood states. However, mindfulness meditation may be specific in its ability to reduce distractive and ruminative thoughts and behaviors, and this ability may provide a unique mechanism by which mindfulness meditation reduces distress.