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OBJECTIVE: The underlying changes in biological processes that are associated with reported changes in mental and physical health in response to meditation have not been systematically explored. We performed a randomized, controlled study on the effects on brain and immune function of a well-known and widely used 8-week clinical training program in mindfulness meditation applied in a work environment with healthy employees. METHODS: We measured brain electrical activity before and immediately after, and then 4 months after an 8-week training program in mindfulness meditation. Twenty-five subjects were tested in the meditation group. A wait-list control group (N = 16) was tested at the same points in time as the meditators. At the end of the 8-week period, subjects in both groups were vaccinated with influenza vaccine. RESULTS: We report for the first time significant increases in left-sided anterior activation, a pattern previously associated with positive affect, in the meditators compared with the nonmeditators. We also found significant increases in antibody titers to influenza vaccine among subjects in the meditation compared with those in the wait-list control group. Finally, the magnitude of increase in left-sided activation predicted the magnitude of antibody titer rise to the vaccine. CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate that a short program in mindfulness meditation produces demonstrable effects on brain and immune function. These findings suggest that meditation may change brain and immune function in positive ways and underscore the need for additional research.
OBJECTIVE: The anticipation of adverse outcomes, or worry, is a cardinal symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. Prior work with healthy subjects has shown that anticipating aversive events recruits a network of brain regions, including the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex. This study tested whether patients with generalized anxiety disorder have alterations in anticipatory amygdala function and whether anticipatory activity in the anterior cingulate cortex predicts treatment response. METHOD: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was employed with 14 generalized anxiety disorder patients and 12 healthy comparison subjects matched for age, sex, and education. The event-related fMRI paradigm was composed of one warning cue that preceded aversive pictures and a second cue that preceded neutral pictures. Following the fMRI session, patients received 8 weeks of treatment with extended-release venlafaxine. RESULTS: Patients with generalized anxiety disorder showed greater anticipatory activity than healthy comparison subjects in the bilateral dorsal amygdala preceding both aversive and neutral pictures. Building on prior reports of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity predicting treatment response, anticipatory activity in that area was associated with clinical outcome 8 weeks later following treatment with venlafaxine. Higher levels of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity in anticipation of both aversive and neutral pictures were associated with greater reductions in anxiety and worry symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: These findings of heightened and indiscriminate amygdala responses to anticipatory signals in generalized anxiety disorder and of anterior cingulate cortex associations with treatment response provide neurobiological support for the role of anticipatory processes in the pathophysiology of generalized anxiety disorder.
Interest in mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents is burgeoning, bringing with it the need for validated instruments to assess mindfulness in youths. The present studies were designed to validate among adolescents a measure of mindfulness previously validated for adults (e.g., Brown & Ryan, 2003), which we herein call the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale—Adolescent (MAAS–A). In 2 large samples of healthy 14- to 18-year-olds (N = 595), Study 1 supported a single-factor MAAS–A structure, along with acceptably high internal consistency, test–retest reliability, and both concurrent and incremental validity. In Study 2, with a sample of 102 psychiatric outpatient adolescents age 14–18 years, participants randomized to a mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention showed significant increases in MAAS–A scores from baseline to 3-month follow-up, relative to nonsignificant score changes among treatment-as-usual participants. Increases in MAAS–A scores among mindfulness-based stress reduction participants were significantly related to beneficial changes in numerous mental health indicators. The findings support the reliability and validity of the MAAS–A in normative and mixed psychiatric adolescent populations and suggest that the MAAS–A has utility in mindfulness intervention research.
This article presents 4 studies (N = 1,413) describing the development and validation of the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure (CAMM). In Study 1 (n = 428), the authors determined procedures for item development and examined comprehensibility of the initial 25 items. In Study 2 (n = 334), they reduced the initial item pool from 25 to 10 items through exploratory factor analysis. Study 3 (n = 332) evaluated the final 10-item measure in a cross-validation sample, and Study 4 (n = 319) determined validity coefficients for the CAMM using bivariate and partial correlations with relevant variables. Results suggest that the CAMM is a developmentally appropriate measure with adequate internal consistency. As expected, CAMM scores were positively correlated with quality of life, academic competence, and social skills and negatively correlated with somatic complaints, internalizing symptoms, and externalizing behavior problems. Correlations were reduced but generally still significant after controlling for the effects of 2 overlapping processes (thought suppression and psychological inflexibility). Overall, results suggest that the CAMM may be a useful measure of mindfulness skills for school-aged children and adolescents.
In the past two decades, the familiar experience of attention - the emphasis on a particular mental activity so that it "fills the mind" - has been subjected to much scientific inquiry. David LaBerge now provides a systematic view of the attention process as it occurs in everyday perception, thinking, and action. Drawing from a variety of research methods and findings from cognitive psychology, neurobiology, and computer science, he presents a masterful synthesis of what is understood about attentional processing. LaBerge explores how we are able to restrict the input of extraneous and confusing information, or prepare to process a future stimulus, in order to take effective action. As well as describing the pathways in the cortex presumed to be involved in attentional processing, he examines the hypothesis that two subcortical structures, the superior colliculus and the thalamus, contain circuit mechanisms that embody an algorithm of attention. In addition, he takes us through various ways of posing the problem, from an information-processing description of how attention works to a consideration of some of the cognitive and behavioral consequences of the brain's computations, such as desiring, judging, imaging, and remembering. Attentional Processing is a highly sophisticated integration of contributions from several fields of neuroscience. It brings together the latest efforts to solve the puzzle of attention: how it works, how it is modulated, what its benefits are, and how it is expressed in the brain.
Thirty-two participants were tested for both resting electroencephalography (EEG) and neuropsychological function. Eight one-minute trials of resting EEG were recorded from 14 channels referenced to linked ears, which was rederived to an average reference. Neuropsychological tasks included Verbal Fluency, the Tower of London, and Corsi's Recurring Blocks. Asymmetries in EEG alpha activity were correlated with performance on these tasks. Similar patterns were obtained for delta and theta bands. Factor analyses of resting EEG asymmetries over particular regions suggested that asymmetries over anterior scalp regions may be partly independent from those over posterior scalp regions. These results support the notions that resting EEG asymmetries are specified by multiple mechanisms along the rostral/caudal plane, and that these asymmetries predict task performance in a manner consistent with lesion and neuroimaging studies.
Mindfulness is an attribute of consciousness long believed to promote well-being. This research provides a theoretical and empirical examination of the role of mindfulness in psychological well-being. The development and psychometric properties of the dispositional Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) are described. Correlational, quasi-experimental, and laboratory studies then show that the MAAS measures a unique quality of consciousness that is related to a variety of well-being constructs, that differentiates mindfulness practitioners from others, and that is associated with enhanced self-awareness. An experience-sampling study shows that both dispositional and state mindfulness predict self-regulated behavior and positive emotional states. Finally, a clinical intervention study with cancer patients demonstrates that increases in mindfulness over time relate to declines in mood disturbance and stress.
Is it really possible to change the structure and function of the brain, and in so doing alter how we think and feel? The answer is a resounding yes. In late 2004, leading Western scientists joined the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India, to address this very question–and in the process brought about a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. In this fascinating and far-reaching book, Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley reports on how cutting-edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to show how we all have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds. These findings hold exciting implications for personal transformation.For decades, the conventional wisdom of neuroscience held that the hardware of the brain is fixed and immutable–that we are stuck with what we were born with. As Begley shows, however, recent pioneering experiments in neuroplasticity, a new science that investigates whether and how the brain can undergo wholesale change, reveal that the brain is capable not only of altering its structure but also of generating new neurons, even into old age. The brain can adapt, heal, renew itself after trauma, and compensate for disability. Begley documents how this fundamental paradigm shift is transforming both our understanding of the human mind and our approach to deep-seated emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems. These breakthroughs show that it is possible to reset our happiness meter, regain the use of limbs disabled by stroke, train the mind to break cycles of depression and OCD, and reverse age-related changes in the brain. They also suggest that it is possible to teach and learn compassion, a key step in the Dalai Lama’s quest for a more peaceful world. But as we learn from studies performed on Buddhist monks, an important component in changing the brain is to tap the power of mind and, in particular, focused attention. This is the classic Buddhist practice of mindfulness, a technique that has become popular in the West and that is immediately available to everyone. With her extraordinary gift for making science accessible, meaningful, and compelling, Sharon Begley illuminates a profound shift in our understanding of how the brain and the mind interact. This tremendously hopeful book takes us to the leading edge of a revolution in what it means to be human.
Previous research indicates that lower-class individuals experience elevated negative emotions as compared with their upper-class counterparts. We examine how the environments of lower-class individuals can also promote greater compassionate responding-that is, concern for the suffering or well-being of others. In the present research, we investigate class-based differences in dispositional compassion and its activation in situations wherein others are suffering. Across studies, relative to their upper-class counterparts, lower-class individuals reported elevated dispositional compassion (Study 1), as well as greater self-reported compassion during a compassion-inducing video (Study 2) and for another person during a social interaction (Study 3). Lower-class individuals also exhibited heart rate deceleration-a physiological response associated with orienting to the social environment and engaging with others-during the compassion-inducing video (Study 2). We discuss a potential mechanism of class-based influences on compassion, whereby lower-class individuals' are more attuned to others' distress, relative to their upper-class counterparts.
Chaotic conditions are a prevalent and threatening feature of social life. Five studies examined whether social class underlies divergent responses to perceptions of chaos in one's social environments and outcomes. The authors hypothesized that when coping with perceptions of chaos, lower class individuals tend to prioritize community, relative to upper class individuals, who instead tend to prioritize material wealth. Consistent with these predictions, when personally confronting chaos, lower class individuals were more communally oriented (Study 1), more connected with their community (Study 2), and more likely to volunteer for a community-building project (Study 3), compared to upper class individuals. In contrast, perceptions of chaos caused upper class individuals to express greater reliance on wealth (Study 4) and prefer financial gain over membership in a close-knit community (Study 5), relative to lower class individuals. These findings suggest that social class shapes how people respond to perceptions of chaos and cope with its threatening consequences.
This study investigated the effects of imagery on flexibility and the relations among verbal and non-verbal and spontaneous and adaptive flexibility measures. Finally, the effects of brain damage on flexibility and imagery were investigated. Historical and more recent concepts of the cognitive rigidity flexibility dimension were discussed with special emphasis on the effects of brain damage. Forty female and fourteen male volunteer students were tested with verbal and non-verbal flexibility tests. Measures of spontaneous flexibility were the Word Fluency Test and the Five Point Test and measures of adaptive flexibility were the Stroop Test and a newly introduced concept identification test, assessing imagery and interference concepts. Furthermore, a questionnaire to assess individual imagery styles was employed as well as the vocabulary and block design subtests of the WAIS. The results of brain damaged subjects were compared to a matched control group. Furthermore, z-score profiles were prepared to compare the test patterns between the different patient groups. Four dimensions of cognitive flexibility-rigidity were found in healthy subjects. Furthermore it was found that individual imagery styles had little influence on the performance in flexibility tests. A trend was showing that "habitual verbalizers" had no advantage in solving the tests and had in fact more difficulty with the identification of non-verbal concepts. No significant gender effects were found. Brain damaged patients performed significantly more poorly than normal subjects in all flexibility tests. Several test- and subject variables that effect the performance on flexibility tests were discussed. It was concluded that rigidity-flexibility measures represent different dimensions depending on stimulus mode and type of task. It was further concluded that behavioral rigidity-flexibility is not only the function of test variables, but also of various subject variables namely imagery style, intelligence, age, gender and brain damage. In healthy people, the performance on one test was not found to be predictive for the performance on another flexibility test. On the other hand, in brain damaged subjects rigid behavior seems to extend to a wider range of test performance. Finally, different performance patterns were described for different lesion sites in brain damaged.
Many investigators have hypothesized that brain response to cortisol is altered in depression. However, neural activation in response to exogenously manipulated cortisol elevations has not yet been directly examined in depressed humans. Animal research shows that glucocorticoids have robust effects on hippocampal function, and can either enhance or suppress neuroplastic events in the hippocampus depending on a number of factors. We hypothesized that depressed individuals would show 1) altered hippocampal response to exogenous administration of cortisol, and 2) altered effects of cortisol on learning. In a repeated-measures design, 19 unmedicated depressed and 41 healthy individuals completed two fMRI scans. Fifteen mg oral hydrocortisone (i.e., cortisol) or placebo (order randomized and double-blind) was administered 1 h prior to encoding of emotional and neutral words during fMRI scans. Data analysis examined the effects of cortisol administration on 1) brain activation during encoding, and 2) subsequent free recall for words. Cortisol affected subsequent recall performance in depressed but not healthy individuals. We found alterations in hippocampal response to cortisol in depressed women, but not in depressed men (who showed altered response to cortisol in other regions, including subgenual prefrontal cortex). In both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function were positively correlated with its effects on recall performance assessed days later. Our data provide evidence that in depressed compared to healthy women, cortisol's effects on hippocampal function are altered. Our data also show that in both depressed men and women, cortisol's effects on emotional memory formation and hippocampal function are related.
Individuals who experience early adversity, such as child maltreatment, are at heightened risk for a broad array of social and health difficulties. However, little is known about how this behavioral risk is instantiated in the brain. Here we examine a neurobiological contribution to individual differences in human behavior using methodology appropriate for use with pediatric populations paired with an in-depth measure of social behavior. We show that alterations in the orbitofrontal cortex among individuals who experienced physical abuse are related to social difficulties. These data suggest a biological mechanism linking early social learning to later behavioral outcomes.
We investigated the impact of mindfulness training (MT) on working memory capacity (WMC) and affective experience. WMC is used in managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet, persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals, may deplete WMC and lead to cognitive failures and emotional disturbances. We hypothesized that MT may mitigate these deleterious effects by bolstering WMC. We recruited 2 military cohorts during the high-stress predeployment interval and provided MT to 1 (MT, n = 31) but not the other group (military control group, MC, n = 17). The MT group attended an 8-week MT course and logged the amount of out-of-class time spent practicing formal MT exercises. The operation span task was used to index WMC at 2 testing sessions before and after the MT course. Although WMC remained stable over time in civilians (n = 12), it degraded in the MC group. In the MT group, WMC decreased over time in those with low MT practice time, but increased in those with high practice time. Higher MT practice time also corresponded to lower levels of negative affect and higher levels of positive affect (indexed by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule). The relationship between practice time and negative, but not positive, affect was mediated by WMC, indicating that MT-related improvements in WMC may support some but not all of MT's salutary effects. Nonetheless, these findings suggest that sufficient MT practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress contexts.
Although individuals experience embarrassment as an unpleasant, negative emotion, the authors argue that expressions of embarrassment serve vital social functions, signaling the embarrassed individual's prosociality and fostering trust. Extending past research on embarrassment as a nonverbal apology and appeasement gesture, the authors demonstrate that observers recognize the expression of embarrassment as a signal of prosociality and commitment to social relationships. In turn, observers respond with affiliative behaviors toward the signaler, including greater trust and desire to affiliate with the embarrassed individual. Five studies tested these hypotheses and ruled out alternative explanations. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals who are more embarrassable also reported greater prosociality and behaved more generously than their less embarrassable counterparts. Results of Studies 2-5 revealed that observers rated embarrassed targets as being more prosocial and less antisocial relative to targets who displayed either a different emotion or no emotion. In addition, observers were more willing to give resources and express a desire to affiliate with these targets, and these effects were mediated by perceptions of the targets as prosocial.
BACKGROUND: The broad autism phenotype includes subclinical autistic characteristics found to have a higher prevalence in unaffected family members of individuals with autism. These characteristics primarily affect the social aspects of language, communication, and human interaction. The current research focuses on possible neurobehavioral characteristics associated with the broad autism phenotype. METHODS: We used a face-processing task associated with atypical patterns of gaze fixation and brain function in autism while collecting brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and eye tracking in unaffected siblings of individuals with autism. RESULTS: We found robust differences in gaze fixation and brain function in response to images of human faces in unaffected siblings compared with typically developing control individuals. The siblings' gaze fixations and brain activation patterns during the face processing task were similar to that of the autism group and showed decreased gaze fixation along with diminished fusiform activation compared with the control group. Furthermore, amygdala volume in the siblings was similar to the autism group and was significantly reduced compared with the control group. CONCLUSIONS: Together, these findings provide compelling evidence for differences in social/emotional processing and underlying neural circuitry in siblings of individuals with autism, supporting the notion of unique endophenotypes associated with the broad autism phenotype.
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.
INTRODUCTION: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterized by cognitive biases in attention, memory and language use. Language use biases often parallel depression symptoms, and contain over-representations of both negative emotive and death words as well as low levels of positive emotive words. This study further explores cognitive biases in depression by comparing the effect of current depression status to cumulative depression history on an elaborated verbal recall of emotional photographs. METHODS: Following a negative mood induction, fifty-two individuals (42 women) with partially-remitted depression viewed - then recalled and verbally described - slides from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). Descriptions were transcribed and frequency of depression-related word use (positive emotion, negative emotion, sex, ingestion and death) was analyzed using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program (LIWC). RESULTS: Contrary to expectations and previous findings, current depression status did not affect word use in any categories of interest. However, individuals with more than 5 years of previous depression used fewer words related to positive emotion (t(50) = 2.10, p = .04, (d = 0.57)), and sex (t(48) = 2.50, p = .013 (d = 0.81)), and there was also a trend for these individuals to use fewer ingestion words (t(50) = 1.95, p = .057 (d = 0.58)), suggesting a deficit in appetitive processing. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that depression duration affects appetitive information processing and that appetitive word use may be a behavioral marker for duration related brain changes which may be used to inform treatment.
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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