To better understand the neurobiological mechanisms by which mindfulness-based practices function in a psychotherapeutic context, this article details the definition, techniques, and purposes ascribed to mindfulness training as described by its Buddhist tradition of origin and by contemporary neurocognitive models. Included is theory of how maladaptive mental processes become habitual and automatic, both from the Buddhist and Western psychological perspective. Specific noting and labeling techniques in open monitoring meditation, described in the Theravada and Western contemporary traditions, are highlighted as providing unique access to multiple modalities of awareness. Potential explicit and implicit mechanisms are discussed by which such techniques can contribute to transforming maladaptive habits of mind and perceptual and cognitive biases, improving efficiency, facilitating integration, and providing the flexibility to switch between systems of self-processing. Finally, a model is provided to describe the timing by which noting and labeling practices have the potential to influence different stages of low- and high-level neural processing. Hypotheses are proposed concerning both levels of processing in relation to the extent of practice. Implications for the nature of subjective experience and self-processing as it relates to one's habits of mind, behavior, and relation to the external world, are also described.
Previous studies have documented the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on executive control. What has been lacking, however, is an understanding of the mechanism underlying this effect. Some theorists have described mindfulness as embodying two facets—present moment awareness and emotional acceptance. Here, we examine how the effect of meditation practice on executive control manifests in the brain, suggesting that emotional acceptance and performance monitoring play important roles. We investigated the effect of meditation practice on executive control and measured the neural correlates of performance monitoring, specifically, the error-related negativity (ERN), a neurophysiological response that occurs within 100 ms of error commission. Meditators and controls completed a Stroop task, during which we recorded ERN amplitudes with electroencephalography. Meditators showed greater executive control (i.e. fewer errors), a higher ERN and more emotional acceptance than controls. Finally, mediation pathway models further revealed that meditation practice relates to greater executive control and that this effect can be accounted for by heightened emotional acceptance, and to a lesser extent, increased brain-based performance monitoring.
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.
OBJECTIVE: To determine whether completing a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program would affect the general health, health-related quality of life, sleep quality, and family harmony of Spanish- and English-speaking medical patients at an inner-city health center. MATERIALS AND METHODS: An intervention group of 68 patients (48 Spanish-speaking and 20 English-speaking) completed the SF-36 Health Survey and two additional questions about sleep quality and family harmony before and after completing the 8-week MBSR program. A comparison group of 18 Spanish-speaking patients who received no intervention completed the same questionnaire at the same intervals. RESULTS: Sixty-six percent of the total intervention group completed the 8-week MBSR program. There was significant comorbidity of medical and mental health diagnoses among the intervention and comparison groups, with no differences in the mean number of diagnoses of the total intervention group, the comparison group, or the Spanish- or English-speaking intervention subgroups. Compared with the comparison group, the intervention group showed statistically significant improvement on five of the eight SF-36 measures, and no improvement on the sleep quality or family harmony items. CONCLUSIONS: MBSR may be an effective behavioral medicine program for Spanish- and English-speaking inner-city medical patients. Suggestions are given for future research to help clarify the program’s effectiveness for this population.
This study examined the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on health-related quality of life and physical and psychological symptomatology in a heterogeneous patient population. Patients (n=136) participated in an 8-week MBSR program and were required to practice 20 min of meditation daily. Pre- and post-intervention data were collected by using the Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36), Medical Symptom Checklist (MSCL) and Symptom Checklist-90 Revised (SCL-90-R). Health-related quality of life was enhanced as demonstrated by improvement on all indices of the SF-36, including vitality, bodily pain, role limitations caused by physical health, and social functioning (all P<.01). Alleviation of physical symptoms was revealed by a 28% reduction on the MSCL (P<.0001). Decreased psychological distress was indicated on the SCL-90-R by a 38% reduction on the Global Severity Index, a 44% reduction on the anxiety subscale, and a 34% reduction on the depression subscale (all P<.0001). One-year follow-up revealed maintenance of initial improvements on several outcome parameters. We conclude that a group mindfulness meditation training program can enhance functional status and well-being and reduce physical symptoms and psychological distress in a heterogeneous patient population and that the intervention may have long-term beneficial effects.
OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this study were to assess the general acceptability and to assess domains of potential effect of a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected and at-risk urban youth. METHODS: Thirteen-to twenty-one-year-old youth were recruited from the pediatric primary care clinic of an urban tertiary care hospital to participate in 4 MBSR groups. Each MBSR group consisted of nine weekly sessions of MBSR instruction. This mixed-methods evaluation consisted of quantitative data--attendance, psychologic symptoms (Symptom Checklist 90-Revised), and quality of life (Child Health and Illness Profile-Adolescent Edition)--and qualitative data--in-depth individual interviews conducted in a convenience sample of participants until interview themes were saturated. Analysis involved comparison of pre- and postintervention surveys and content analysis of interviews. RESULTS: Thirty-three (33) youth attended at least one MBSR session. Of the 33 who attended any sessions, 26 youth (79%) attended the majority of the MBSR sessions and were considered "program completers." Among program completers, 11 were HIV-infected, 77% were female, all were African American, and the average age was 16.8 years. Quantitative data show that following the MBSR program, participants had a significant reduction in hostility (p = 0.02), general discomfort (p = 0.01), and emotional discomfort (p = 0.02). Qualitative data (n = 10) show perceived improvements in interpersonal relationships (including less conflict), school achievement, physical health, and reduced stress. CONCLUSIONS: The data suggest that MBSR instruction for urban youth may have a positive effect in domains related to hostility, interpersonal relationships, school achievement, and physical health. However, because of the small sample size and lack of control group, it cannot be distinguished whether the changes observed are due to MBSR or to nonspecific group effects. Further controlled trials should include assessment of the MBSR program's efficacy in these domains.
This position paper advocates for early childhood teachers and parents to regularly use of mindfulness practices themselves and with very young children. An understanding of 'mindfulness' is important because it can provide ways to support children during their sensitive years and sow seeds of kindness, tolerance and peace in our fast paced, competitive, consumerist culture. In addition, in times of trauma, mindfulness techniques offer teachers and parents ways to calm themselves and the children close to them. The value of using mindfulness techniques with children and for demonstrating mindfulness as adults is well supported by research (McCown, Reibel and Micozzi, 2010; Saltzman and Goldin, 2008).
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.
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.
In this article, the authors elaborate on 3 ideas advanced in P. Rozin and A. B. Cohen's (2003) innovative study of facial expression. Taking a cue from their discovery of new expressive behaviors (e.g., the narrowed eyebrows), the authors review recent studies showing that emotions are conveyed in more channels than usually studied, including posture, gaze patterns, voice, and touch. Building on their claim that confusion has a distinct display, the authors review evidence showing distinct displays for 3 self-conscious emotions (embarrassment, shame, and pride), 5 positive emotions (amusement, desire, happiness, love, interest), and sympathy and compassion. Finally, the authors offer a functional definition of emotion to integrate these findings on "new" displays and emotions.
The nature of the affective deficit that characterizes social anhedonia is not well understood. Emotionally evocative visual stimuli were presented to undergraduates identified as anhedonic or normal, based on their scores on the revised Social Anhedonia Scale. The affective stimuli were chosen to elicit positive and negative emotion; a subset of slides were specifically chosen to include social-interpersonal content. In the acoustic startle paradigm, participants were administered startle probes (50-ms 95 dB white noise bursts) while viewing images from the International Affective Picture System. Socially anhedonic individuals did not differ from normally hedonic individuals in terms of their physiological response to the stimuli, regardless of the nature of the content of the stimuli. However, on the self-report measures of trait affectivity, the socially anhedonic individuals reported significantly lower levels of positive affect and higher levels of negative affect. These findings suggest that the affective deficits reported by socially anhedonic individuals are not global in nature.
Positive affect elicited in a mother toward her newborn infant may be one of the most powerful and evolutionarily preserved forms of positive affect in the emotional landscape of human behavior. This study examined the neurobiology of this form of positive emotion and in so doing, sought to overcome the difficulty of eliciting robust positive affect in response to visual stimuli in the physiological laboratory. Six primiparous human mothers with no indications of postpartum depression brought their infants into the laboratory for a photo shoot. Approximately 6 weeks later, they viewed photographs of their infant, another infant, and adult faces during acquisition of functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI). Mothers exhibited bilateral activation of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) while viewing pictures of their own versus unfamiliar infants. While in the scanner, mothers rated their mood more positively for pictures of their own infants than for unfamiliar infants, adults, or at baseline. The orbitofrontal activation correlated positively with pleasant mood ratings. In contrast, areas of visual cortex that also discriminated between own and unfamiliar infants were unrelated to mood ratings. These data implicate the orbitofrontal cortex in a mother's affective responses to her infant, a form of positive emotion that has received scant attention in prior human neurobiological studies. Furthermore, individual variations in orbitofrontal activation to infant stimuli may reflect an important dimension of maternal attachment.
Responses to individuals who suffer are a foundation of cooperative communities. On the basis of the approach/inhibition theory of power (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003), we hypothesized that elevated social power is associated with diminished reciprocal emotional responses to another person's suffering (feeling distress at another person's distress) and with diminished complementary emotion (e.g., compassion). In face-to-face conversations, participants disclosed experiences that had caused them suffering. As predicted, participants with a higher sense of power experienced less distress and less compassion and exhibited greater autonomic emotion regulation when confronted with another participant's suffering. Additional analyses revealed that these findings could not be attributed to power-related differences in baseline emotion or decoding accuracy, but were likely shaped by power-related differences in the motivation to affiliate. Implications for theorizing about power and the social functions of emotions are discussed.
Drawing on recent claims in the study of relationships, attachment, and emotion, the authors hypothesized that romantic love serves a commitment-related function and sexual desire a reproduction-related function. Consistent with these claims, in Study 1, brief experiences of romantic love and sexual desire observed in a 3-min interaction between romantic partners were related to distinct feeling states, distinct nonverbal displays, and commitment- and reproductive-related relationship outcomes, respectively. In Study 2, the nonverbal display of romantic love was related to the release of oxytocin. Discussion focuses on the place of romantic love and sexual desire in the literature on emotion.
Recent literature has described how the capacity for concurrent self-assessment—ongoing moment-to-moment self-monitoring—is an important component of the professional competence of physicians. Self-monitoring refers to the ability to notice our own actions, curiosity to examine the effects of those actions, and willingness to use those observations to improve behavior and thinking in the future. Self-monitoring allows for the early recognition of cognitive biases, technical errors, and emotional reactions and may facilitate self-correction and development of therapeutic relationships. Cognitive neuroscience has begun to explore the brain functions associated with self-monitoring, and the structural and functional changes that occur during mental training to improve attentiveness, curiosity, and presence. This training involves cultivating habits of mind such as experiencing information as novel, thinking of “facts” as conditional, seeing situations from multiple perspectives, suspending categorization and judgment, and engaging in self-questioning. The resulting awareness is referred to as mindfulness and the associated moment-to-moment self-monitoring as mindful practice—in contrast to being on “automatic pilot” or “mindless” in one's behavior. This article is a preliminary exploration into the intersection of educational assessment, cognitive neuroscience, and mindful practice, with the hope of promoting ways of improving clinicians' capacity to self-monitor during clinical practice, and, by extension, improve the quality of care that they deliver.
Social class is shaped by an individual's material resources as well as perceptions of rank vis-à-vis others in society, and in this article, we examine how class influences behavior. Diminished resources and lower rank create contexts that constrain social outcomes for lower-class individuals and enhance contextualist tendencies--that is, a focus on external, uncontrollable social forces and other individuals who influence one's life outcomes. In contrast, abundant resources and elevated rank create contexts that enhance the personal freedoms of upper-class individuals and give rise to solipsistic social cognitive tendencies--that is, an individualistic focus on one's own internal states, goals, motivations, and emotions. Guided by this framework, we detail 9 hypotheses and relevant empirical evidence concerning how class-based contextualist and solipsistic tendencies shape the self, perceptions of the social environment, and relationships to other individuals. Novel predictions and implications for research in other socio-political contexts are considered.
Power increases the tendency to behave in a goal-congruent fashion. Guided by this theoretical notion, we hypothesized that elevated power would strengthen the positive association between prosocial orientation and empathic accuracy. In 3 studies with university and adult samples, prosocial orientation was more strongly associated with empathic accuracy when distinct forms of power were high than when power was low. In Study 1, a physiological indicator of prosocial orientation, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, exhibited a stronger positive association with empathic accuracy in a face-to-face interaction among dispositionally high-power individuals. In Study 2, experimentally induced prosocial orientation increased the ability to accurately judge the emotions of a stranger but only for individuals induced to feel powerful. In Study 3, a trait measure of prosocial orientation was more strongly related to scores on a standard test of empathic accuracy among employees who occupied high-power positions within an organization. Study 3 further showed a mediated relationship between prosocial orientation and career satisfaction through empathic accuracy among employees in high-power positions but not among employees in lower power positions. Discussion concentrates upon the implications of these findings for studies of prosociality, power, and social behavior.
This study examined the interplay of social engagement, sleep quality, and plasma levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) in a sample of aging women (n = 74, aged 61-90, M age = 73.4). Social engagement was assessed by questionnaire, sleep was assessed by using the NightCap in-home sleep monitoring system and the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, and blood samples were obtained for analysis of plasma levels of IL-6. Regarding subjective assessment, poorer sleep (higher scores on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) was associated with lower positive social relations scores. Multivariate regression analyses showed that lower levels of plasma IL-6 were predicted by greater sleep efficiency (P < 0.001), measured objectively and by more positive social relations (P < 0.05). A significant interaction showed that women with the highest IL-6 levels were those with both poor sleep efficiency and poor social relations (P < 0.05). However, those with low sleep efficiency but compensating good relationships as well as women with poor relationships but compensating high sleep efficiency had IL-6 levels comparable to those with the protective influences of both good social ties and good sleep.
Laughter facilitates the adaptive response to stress by increasing the psychological distance from distress and by enhancing social relations. To test these hypotheses, the authors related measures of bereaved adults' laughter and smiling 6 months postloss to measures of their (a) subjective emotion and dissociation from distress, (b) social relations, and (c) responses they evoked in others. Duchenne laughter, which involves orbicularis oculi muscle action, related to self-reports of reduced anger and increased enjoyment, the dissociation of distress, better social relations, and positive responses from strangers, whereas non-Duchenne laughter did not. Lending credence to speculations in the ethological literature, Duchenne laughter correlated with different intrapersonal and interpersonal responses than Duchenne smiles. Discussion focuses on the relevance of these findings to theories of positive emotion.
What happens when people suppress their emotions when they sacrifice for a romantic partner? This multimethod study investigates how suppressing emotions during sacrifice shapes affective and relationship outcomes. In Part 1, dating couples came into the laboratory to discuss important romantic relationship sacrifices. Suppressing emotions was associated with emotional costs for the partner discussing his or her sacrifice. In Part 2, couples participated in a 14-day daily experience study. Within-person increases in emotional suppression during daily sacrifice were associated with decreases in emotional well-being and relationship quality as reported by both members of romantic dyads. In Part 3, suppression predicted decreases in relationship satisfaction and increases in thoughts about breaking up with a romantic partner 3 months later. In the first two parts of the study, authenticity mediated the costly effects of suppression. Implications for research on close relationships and emotion regulation are discussed.
Following E. Goffman's (1967) face threat analysis of social interaction, it was hypothesized that the aggressive, playful content of teasing would vary according to social status and relational satisfaction, personality, role as teaser or target, and gender. These 4 hypotheses were tested in analyses of the teasing among fraternity members (Study 1) and romantic couples (Study 2). Consistent with a face threat analysis of teasing, low-status fraternity members and satisfied romantic partners teased in more prosocial ways, defined by reduced face threat and increased redressive action. Some findings indicate that disagreeable individuals teased in less prosocial ways, consistent with studies of bullying. Targets reported more negative emotion than teasers. Although female and male romantic partners teased each other in similar ways, women found being the target of teasing more aversive, consistent with previous speculation.
Although tantrums are among the most common behavioral problems of young children and may predict future antisocial behavior, little is known about them. To develop a model of this important phenomenon of early childhood, behaviors reported in parental narratives of the tantrums of 335 children aged 18 to 60 months were encoded as present or absent in consecutive 30-second periods. Principal Component (PC) analysis identified Anger and Distress as major, independent emotional and behavioral tantrum constituents. Anger-related behaviors formed PCs at three levels of intensity. High-intensity anger decreased with age, and low-intensity anger increased. Distress, the fourth PC, consisted of whining, crying, and comfort-seeking. Coping Style, the fifth PC, had high but opposite loadings on dropping down and running away, possibly reflecting the tendency to either "submit" or "escape." Model validity was indicated by significant correlations of the PCs with tantrum variables that were, by design, not included in the PC analysis.
This article completes the analysis of parental narratives of tantrums had by 335 children aged 18 to 60 months. Modal tantrum durations were 0.5 to 1 minute; 75% of the tantrums lasted 5 minutes or less. If the child stamped or dropped to the floor in the first 30 seconds, the tantrum was likely to be shorter and the likelihood of parental intervention less. A novel analysis of behavior probabilities that permitted grouping of tantrums of different durations converged with our previous statistically independent results to yield a model of tantrums as the expression of two independent but partially overlapping emotional and behavioral processes: Anger and Distress. Anger rises quickly, has its peak at or near the beginning of the tantrum, and declines thereafter. Crying and comfort-seeking, components of Distress, slowly increase in probability across the tantrum. This model indicates that tantrums can provide a window on the intense emotional processes of childhood.