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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.
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As Titchener pointed out more than one hundred years ago, attention is at the center of the psychological enterprise. Attention research investigates how voluntary control and subjective experience arise from and regulate our behavior. In recent years, attention has been one of the fastest growing of all fields within cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. This review examines attention as characterized by linking common neural networks with individual differences in their efficient utilization. The development of attentional networks is partly specified by genes, but is also open to specific experiences through the actions of caregivers and the culture. We believe that the connection between neural networks, genes, and socialization provides a common approach to all aspects of human cognition and emotion. Pursuit of this approach can provide a basis for psychology that unifies social, cultural, differential, experimental, and physiological areas, and allows normal development to serve as a baseline for understanding various forms of pathology. D.O. Hebb proposed this approach 50 years ago in his volume Organization of Behavior and continued with introductory textbooks that dealt with all of the topics of psychology in a common framework. Use of a common network approach to psychological science may allow a foundation for predicting and understanding human behavior in its varied forms.

This article assessed whether resting electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry in anterior regions of the brain can predict affective responses to emotion elicitors. Baseline EEG was recorded from 32 female adults, after which Ss viewed film clips preselected to elicit positive or negative affect. Resting alpha power asymmetry in the frontal region significantly predicted self-reported global negative affect in response to clips and predicted the difference between global positive and negative affect. Analyses of discrete emotions revealed a strong relation between frontal asymmetry and fear responses to films. Effects were independent of Ss mood ratings at the time at which baseline EEG was measured. Resting anterior asymmetry may be a state-independent index of the individual's predisposition to respond affectively.
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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.
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The development of functional neuroimaging of emotion holds the promise to enhance our understanding of the biological bases of affect and improve our knowledge of psychiatric diseases. However, up to this point, researchers have been unable to objectively, continuously and unobtrusively measure the intensity and dynamics of affect concurrently with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This has hindered the development and generalizability of our field. Facial electromyography (EMG) is an objective, reliable, valid, sensitive, and unobtrusive measure of emotion. Here, we report the successful development of a method for simultaneously acquiring fMRI and facial EMG. The ability to simultaneously acquire brain activity and facial physiology will allow affective neuroscientists to address theoretical, psychiatric, and individual difference questions in a more rigorous and generalizable way.
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Social cognition, including complex social judgments and attitudes, is shaped by individual learning experiences, where affect often plays a critical role. Aversive classical conditioning-a form of associative learning involving a relationship between a neutral event (conditioned stimulus, CS) and an aversive event (unconditioned stimulus, US)-represents a well-controlled paradigm to study how the acquisition of socially relevant knowledge influences behavior and the brain. Unraveling the temporal unfolding of brain mechanisms involved appears critical for an initial understanding about how social cognition operates. Here, 128-channel ERPs were recorded in 50 subjects during the acquisition phase of a differential aversive classical conditioning paradigm. The CS+ (two fearful faces) were paired 50% of the time with an aversive noise (CS upward arrow + /Paired), whereas in the remaining 50% they were not (CS upward arrow + /Unpaired); the CS- (two different fearful faces) were never paired with the noise. Scalp ERP analyses revealed differences between CS upward arrow + /Unpaired and CS- as early as approximately 120 ms post-stimulus. Tomographic source localization analyses revealed early activation modulated by the CS+ in the ventral visual pathway (e.g. fusiform gyrus, approximately 120 ms), right middle frontal gyrus (approximately 176 ms), and precuneus (approximately 240 ms). At approximately 120 ms, the CS- elicited increased activation in the left insula and left middle frontal gyrus. These findings not only confirm a critical role of prefrontal, insular, and precuneus regions in aversive conditioning, but they also suggest that biologically and socially salient information modulates activation at early stages of the information processing flow, and thus furnish initial insight about how affect and social judgments operate.
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We used fMRI to examine amygdala activation in response to fearful facial expressions, measured over multiple scanning sessions. 15 human subjects underwent three scanning sessions, at 0, 2 and 8 weeks. During each session, functional brain images centered about the amygdala were acquired continuously while participants were shown alternating blocks of fearful, neutral and happy facial expressions. Intraclass correlation coefficients calculated across the sessions indicated stability of response in left amygdala to fearful faces (as a change from baseline), but considerably less left amygdala stability in responses to neutral expressions and for fear versus neutral contrasts. The results demonstrate that the measurement of fMRI BOLD responses in amygdala to fearful facial expressions might be usefully employed as an index of amygdala reactivity over extended periods. While signal change to fearful facial expressions appears robust, the experimental design employed here has yielded variable responsivity within baseline or comparison conditions. Future studies might manipulate the experimental design to either amplify or attenuate this variability, according to the goals of the research.
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Recent evidence suggests that frontal brain electrical activity reveals asymmetries in activation in response to positive vs negative affective stimuli. This study was designed to evaluate whether this asymmetry is present at birth. Newborn infants were presented with water followed by a sucrose solution and then by a citric acid solution. Facial expression was videotaped during the presentation of the liquids and EEG was recorded from the frontal and parietal scalp regions on the left and right side. Usable EEG data were obtained from 16 newborn infants in response to these taste conditions. Videotaping of facial expression in response to these stimuli indicated the presence of disgust during both water (the first taste introduced) and citric acid. EEG was Fourier Transformed and power in the 1-3, 3-6 and 6-12 Hz bands was computed. The findings revealed that the water condition produced reductions in right-hemisphere power in the two higher frequency bands in both the scalp regions compared with the other two conditions. The sucrose condition produced greater relative left-sided activation in both regions compared with the water condition. These data, in conjunction with our previous findings of asymmetries in 10-month-old infants, indicate that stimulus-elicited affective asymmetries in brain electrical activity are present at birth.
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Mindfulness neuroscience is an emerging research field that investigates the underlying mechanisms of different mindfulness practices, different stages and different states of practice as well as different effects of practice over the lifespan. Mindfulness neuroscience research integrates theory and methods from eastern contemplative traditions, western psychology and neuroscience, and from neuroimaging techniques, physiological measures and behavioral tests. We here review several key theoretical and methodological challenges in the empirical study of mindfulness neuroscience and provide suggestions for overcoming these challenges.

Planned and reflexive behaviors often occur in the presence of emotional stimuli and within the context of an individual's acute emotional state. Therefore, determining the manner in which emotion and attention interact is an important step toward understanding how we function in the real world. Participants in the current investigation viewed centrally displayed, task-irrelevant, face distractors (angry, neutral, happy) while performing a lateralized go/no-go continuous performance task. Lateralized go targets and no-go lures that did not spatially overlap with the faces were employed to differentially probe processing in the left (LH) and right (RH) cerebral hemispheres. There was a significant interaction between expression and hemisphere, with an overall pattern such that angry distractors were associated with relatively more RH inhibitory errors than neutral or happy distractors and happy distractors with relatively more LH inhibitory errors than angry or neutral distractors. Simple effects analyses confirmed that angry faces differentially interfered with RH relative to LH inhibition and with inhibition in the RH relative to happy faces. A significant three-way interaction further revealed that state anxiety moderated relations between emotional expression and hemisphere. Under conditions of low cognitive load, more intense anxiety was associated with relatively greater RH than LH impairment in the presence of both happy and threatening distractors. By contrast, under high load, only angry distractors produced greater RH than LH interference as a function of anxiety.
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Recent neuroimaging and neuropsychological work has begun to shed light on how the brain responds to the viewing of facial expressions of emotion. However, one important category of facial expression that has not been studied on this level is the facial expression of pain. We investigated the neural response to pain expressions by performing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as subjects viewed short video sequences showing faces expressing either moderate pain or, for comparison, no pain. In alternate blocks, the same subjects received both painful and non-painful thermal stimulation. Facial expressions of pain were found to engage cortical areas also engaged by the first-hand experience of pain, including anterior cingulate cortex and insula. The reported findings corroborate other work in which the neural response to witnessed pain has been examined from other perspectives. In addition, they lend support to the idea that common neural substrates are involved in representing one's own and others' affective states.
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Facial expressions of pain are an important part of the pain response, signaling distress to others and eliciting social support. To evaluate how voluntary modulation of this response contributes to the pain experience, 29 subjects were exposed to thermal stimulation while making standardized pain, control, or relaxed faces. Dependent measures were self-reported negative effect (valence and arousal) as well as the intensity of nociceptive stimulation required to reach a given subjective level of pain. No direct social feedback was given by the experimenter. Although the amount of nociceptive stimulation did not differ across face conditions, subjects reported more negative effects in response to painful stimulation while holding the pain face. Subsequent analyses suggested the effects were not due to preexisting differences in the difficulty or unpleasantness of making the pain face. These results suggest that voluntary pain expressions have no positively reinforcing (pain attenuating) qualities, at least in the absence of external contingencies such as social reinforcement, and that such expressions may indeed be associated with higher levels of negative affect in response to similar nociceptive input. PERSPECTIVE: This study demonstrates that making a standardized pain face increases negative affect in response to nociceptive stimulation, even in the absence of social feedback. This suggests that exaggerated facial displays of pain, although often socially reinforced, may also have unintended aversive consequences.
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For survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), verbal disclosure is often complex and painful. The authors examined the voluntary disclosure-nondisclosure of CSA in relation to nonverbal expressions of emotion in the face. Consistent with hypotheses derived from recent theorizing about the moral nature of emotion, CSA survivors who did not voluntarily disclose CSA showed greater facial expressions of shame, whereas CSA survivors who voluntarily disclosed CSA expressed greater disgust. Expressions of disgust also signaled sexual abuse accompanied by violence. Consistent with recent theorizing about smiling behavior, CSA nondisclosers made more polite smiles, whereas nonabused participants expressed greater genuine positive emotion. Discussion addressed the implications of these findings for the study of disclosure of traumatic events, facial expression, and the links between morality and emotion.
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BACKGROUND: Although yoga and meditation have been used for stress reduction with reported improvement in inflammation, little is known about the biological mechanisms mediating such effects. The present study examined if a yogic meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral transcription control pathways that shape immune cell gene expression. METHODS: Forty-five family dementia caregivers were randomized to either Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM) or Relaxing Music (RM) listening for 12 min daily for 8 weeks and 39 caregivers completed the study. Genome-wide transcriptional profiles were collected from peripheral blood leukocytes sampled at baseline and 8-week follow-up. Promoter-based bioinformatics analyses tested the hypothesis that observed transcriptional alterations were structured by reduced activity of the pro-inflammatory nuclear factor (NF)-κB family of transcription factors and increased activity of Interferon Response Factors (IRFs; i.e., reversal of patterns previously linked to stress). RESULTS: In response to KKM treatment, 68 genes were found to be differentially expressed (19 up-regulated, 49 down-regulated) after adjusting for potentially confounded differences in sex, illness burden, and BMI. Up-regulated genes included immunoglobulin-related transcripts. Down-regulated transcripts included pro-inflammatory cytokines and activation-related immediate-early genes. Transcript origin analyses identified plasmacytoid dendritic cells and B lymphocytes as the primary cellular context of these transcriptional alterations (both p<.001). Promoter-based bioinformatic analysis implicated reduced NF-κB signaling and increased activity of IRF1 in structuring those effects (both p<.05). CONCLUSION: A brief daily yogic meditation intervention may reverse the pattern of increased NF-κB-related transcription of pro-inflammatory cytokines and decreased IRF1-related transcription of innate antiviral response genes previously observed in healthy individuals confronting a significant life stressor.
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