OBJECTIVE: This study was undertaken to identify brain structures associated with emotion in normal elderly subjects. METHOD: Eight normal subjects aged 55-78 years were shown film clips intended to provoke the emotions of happiness, fear, or disgust as well as a neutral state. During emotional activation, regional cerebral blood flow was measured with the use of [15O]H2O positron emission tomography imaging, and subjective emotional responses were recorded. Data were analyzed by subtracting the values during the neutral condition from the values in the various emotional activations. RESULTS: The stimuli produced a general activation in visual pathways that included the primary and secondary visual cortex, involving regions associated with object and spatial recognition. In addition, the specific emotions produced different regional limbic activations, which suggests that different pathways may be used for different types of emotional stimuli. CONCLUSIONS: Emotional activation in normal elderly subjects was associated with increases in blood flow in limbic and paralimbic brain structures. Brain activation may be specific to the emotion being elicited but probably involves complex sensory, association, and memory circuitry. Further studies are needed to identify activations that are specific for emotion.
<p>In two prior studies, we investigated the neural mechanisms of spatial attention using a combined event-related potential (ERP) and positron emission tomography (PET) approach (Heinze et al. : Nature 392:543-546; Mangun et al. : Hum Brain Mapp 5:273-279). Neural activations in extrastriate cortex were observed in the PET measures for attended stimuli, and these effects were related to attentional modulations in the ERPs at specific latencies. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and ERPs in single subjects to investigate the intersubject variability in extrastriate spatial attention effects, and to qualitatively compare this to variations in ERP attention effects. Activations in single subjects replicated our prior group-averaged PET findings, showing attention-related increases in blood flow in the posterior fusiform and middle occipital gyri in the hemisphere contralateral to attended visual stimuli. All subjects showed attentional modulations of the occipital P1 component of the ERPs. These findings in single subjects demonstrate the consistency of extrastriate attention effects, and provide information about the feasibility of this approach for integration of electrical and functional imaging data.</p>
BACKGROUND: Relationships between aberrant social functioning and depression have been explored via behavioral, clinical, and survey methodologies, highlighting their importance in the etiology of depression. The neural underpinnings of these relationships, however, have not been explored. METHODS: Nine depressed participants and 14 never-depressed control subjects viewed emotional and neutral pictures at two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning sessions approximately 22 weeks apart. In the interim, depressed patients received the antidepressant Venlafaxine. Positively rated images were parsed into three separate comparisons: social interaction, human faces, and sexual images; across scanning session, activation to these images was compared with other positively rated images. RESULTS: For each of the three social stimulus types (social interaction, faces, sexual images), a distinguishable circuitry was activated equally in non-depressed control subjects and post-treatment depressed subjects but showed a hypo-response in the depressed group pre-treatment. These structures include regions of prefrontal, temporal, and parietal cortices, insula, basal ganglia, and the hippocampus. CONCLUSIONS: The neural hypo-response to positively valenced social stimuli that is observed in depression remits as response to antidepressant medication occurs, suggesting a state-dependent deficiency in response to positive social incentives. These findings underscore the importance of addressing social dysfunction in research and treatment of depression.
<p>Two hundred twenty-five chronic pain patients were studied following training in mindfulness meditation. Large and significant overall improvements were recorded post-intervention in physical and psychological status. These gains were maintained at follow-up in the majority of subjects. Follow-up times ranged from 2.5-48 months. Status on the McUill Melzack Pain Rating Index (PRI). however, tended to revert to preintervention levels following the intervention. Most subjects reported a high degree of adherence with the meditation techniques, maintenance of improved status over time, and a high degree of importance attributed to the training program. We conclude that such training can have long-term benefit for chronic pain patients.</p>
<p>BACKGROUND: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques were used to identify the neural circuitry underlying emotional processing in control and depressed subjects. Depressed subjects were studied before and after treatment with venlafaxine. This new technique provides a method to noninvasively image regional brain function with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. METHOD: Echo-planar imaging was used to acquire whole brain images while subjects viewed positively and negatively valenced visual stimuli. Two control subjects and two depressed subjects who met DSM-IV criteria for major depression were scanned at baseline and 2 weeks later. Depressed subjects were treated with venlafaxine after the baseline scan. RESULTS: Preliminary results from this ongoing study revealed three interesting trends in the data. Both depressed patients demonstrated considerable symptomatic improvement at the time of the second scan. Across control and depressed subjects, the negative compared with the positive pictures elicited greater global activation. In both groups, activation induced by the negative pictures decreased from the baseline scan to the 2-week scan. This decrease in activation was also present in the control subjects when they were exposed to the positive pictures. In contrast, when the depressed subjects were presented with the positive pictures they showed no activation at baseline, whereas after 2 weeks of treatment an area of activation emerged in right secondary visual cortex. CONCLUSION: While preliminary, these results demonstrate the power of using fMRI to study emotional processes in normal and depressed subjects and to examine mechanisms of action of antidepressant drugs.</p>
According to the Conceptual Act Theory of Emotion, the situated conceptualization used to construe a situation determines the emotion experienced. A neuroimaging experiment tested two core hypotheses of this theory: (1) different situated conceptualizations produce different forms of the same emotion in different situations, (2) the composition of a situated conceptualization emerges from shared multimodal circuitry distributed across the brain that produces emotional states generally. To test these hypotheses, the situation in which participants experienced an emotion was manipulated. On each trial, participants immersed themselves in a physical danger or social evaluation situation and then experienced fear or anger. According to Hypothesis 1, the brain activations for the same emotion should differ as a function of the preceding situation (after removing activations that arose while constructing the situation). According to Hypothesis 2, the critical activations should reflect conceptual processing relevant to the emotion in the current situation, drawn from shared multimodal circuitry underlying emotion. The results supported these predictions and demonstrated the compositional process that produces situated conceptualizations dynamically.
Many objects typically occur in particular locations, and object words encode these spatial associations. We tested whether such object words (e.g., head, foot) orient attention toward the location where the denoted object typically occurs (i.e., up, down). Because object words elicit perceptual simulations of the denoted objects (i.e., the representations acquired during actual perception are reactivated), we predicted that an object word would interfere with identification of an unrelated visual target subsequently presented in the object's typical location. Consistent with this prediction, three experiments demonstrated that words denoting objects that typically occur high in the visual field hindered identification of targets appearing at the top of the display, whereas words denoting low objects hindered target identification at the bottom of the display. Thus, object words oriented attention to and activated perceptual simulations in the objects' typical locations. These results shed new light on how language affects perception.
The degree to which perceived controllability alters the way a stressor is experienced varies greatly among individuals. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural activation associated with individual differences in the impact of perceived controllability on self-reported pain perception. Subjects with greater activation in response to uncontrollable (UC) rather than controllable (C) pain in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC), periaqueductal gray (PAG), and posterior insula/SII reported higher levels of pain during the UC versus C conditions. Conversely, subjects with greater activation in the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) in anticipation of pain in the UC versus C conditions reported less pain in response to UC versus C pain. Activation in the VLPFC was significantly correlated with the acceptance and denial subscales of the COPE inventory [Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267-283, 1989], supporting the interpretation that this anticipatory activation was associated with an attempt to cope with the emotional impact of uncontrollable pain. A regression model containing the two prefrontal clusters (VLPFC and pACC) predicted 64% of the variance in pain rating difference, with activation in the two additional regions (PAG and insula/SII) predicting almost no additional variance. In addition to supporting the conclusion that the impact of perceived controllability on pain perception varies highly between individuals, these findings suggest that these effects are primarily top-down, driven by processes in regions of the prefrontal cortex previously associated with cognitive modulation of pain and emotion regulation.
Study Objective To assess feasibility, and collect preliminary data for a subsequent randomized, sham-controlled trial to evaluate Japanese-style acupuncture for reducing chronic pelvic pain and improving health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in adolescents with endometriosis. Design Randomized, sham-controlled trial. Settings Tertiary-referral hospital. Participants Eighteen young women (13–22y) with laparoscopically-diagnosed endometriosis-related chronic pelvic pain. Interventions A Japanese style of acupuncture and a sham acupuncture control. Sixteen treatments were administered over 8 weeks. Main Outcome Measures Protocol feasibility, recruitment numbers, pain not associated with menses or intercourse, and multiple HRQOL instruments including Endometriosis Health Profile, Pediatric Quality of Life, Perceived Stress, and Activity Limitation. Results Fourteen participants (out of 18 randomized) completed the study per protocol. Participants in the active acupuncture group (n = 9) experienced an average 4.8 (SD = 2.4) point reduction on a 11 point scale (62%) in pain after 4 weeks, which differed significantly from the control group's (n = 5) average reduction of 1.4 (SD = 2.1) points (P = 0.004). Reduction in pain in the active group persisted through a 6-month assessment; however, after 4 weeks, differences between the active and control group decreased and were not statistically significant. All HRQOL measures indicated greater improvements in the active acupuncture group compared to the control; however, the majority of these trends were not statistically significant. No serious adverse events were reported. Conclusion Preliminary estimates indicate that Japanese-style acupuncture may be an effective, safe, and well-tolerated adjunct therapy for endometriosis-related pelvic pain in adolescents. A more definitive trial evaluating Japanese-style acupuncture in this population is both feasible and warranted.
Separate, extended series of positive, negative, and neutral pictures were presented to 24 (12 men, 12 women) undergraduates. Each series was presented on a different day, with full counterbalancing of presentation orders. Affective state was measured using (a) orbicularis oculi activity in response to acoustic startle probes during picture presentation, (b) corrugator supercilii activity between and during picture presentation, and (c) changes in self-reports of positive and negative affect. Participants exhibited larger eyeblink reflex magnitudes when viewing negative than when viewing positive pictures. Corrugator activity was also greater during the negative than during the positive picture set, during both picture presentation and the period between pictures. Self-reports of negative affect increased in response to the negative picture set, and self-reports of positive affect were greatest following the positive picture set. These findings suggest that extended picture presentation is an effective method of manipulating affective state and further highlight the utility of startle probe and facial electromyographic measures in providing on-line readouts of affective state.
The aim of mindfulness meditation is to develop present-focused, non-judgmental, attention. Therefore, experience in meditation should be associated with less anticipation and negative appraisal of pain. In this study we compared a group of individuals with meditation experience to a control group to test whether any differences in the affective appraisal of pain could be explained by lower anticipatory neural processing. Anticipatory and pain-evoked ERPs and reported pain unpleasantness were recorded in response to laser stimuli of matched subjective intensity between the two groups. ERP data were analysed after source estimation with LORETA. No group effects were found on the laser energies used to induce pain. More experienced meditators perceived the pain as less unpleasant relative to controls, with meditation experience correlating inversely with unpleasantness ratings. ERP source data for anticipation showed that in meditators, lower activity in midcingulate cortex relative to controls was related to the lower unpleasantness ratings, and was predicted by lifetime meditation experience. Meditators also reversed the normal positive correlation between medial prefrontal cortical activity and pain unpleasantness during anticipation. Meditation was also associated with lower activity in S2 and insula during the pain-evoked response, although the experiment could not disambiguate this activity from the preceding anticipation response. Our data is consistent with the hypothesis that meditation reduces the anticipation and negative appraisal of pain, but effects on pain-evoked activity are less clear and may originate from preceding anticipatory activity. Further work is required to directly test the causal relationship between meditation, pain anticipation, and pain experience.
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.
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.
<p>Objective This study compared changes in bodily pain, health-related quality of life (HRQoL), and psychological symptoms during an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program among groups of participants with different chronic pain conditions. Methods From 1997-2003, a longitudinal investigation of chronic pain patients ( n=133) was nested within a larger prospective cohort study of heterogeneous patients participating in MBSR at a university-based Integrative Medicine center. Measures included the Short-Form 36 Health Survey and Symptom Checklist-90-Revised. Paired t tests were used to compare pre–post changes on outcome measures. Differences in treatment effect sizes were compared as a function of chronic pain condition. Correlations were examined between outcome parameters and home meditation practice. Results Outcomes differed in significance and magnitude across common chronic pain conditions. Diagnostic subgroups of patients with arthritis, back/neck pain, or two or more comorbid pain conditions demonstrated a significant change in pain intensity and functional limitations due to pain following MBSR. Participants with arthritis showed the largest treatment effects for HRQoL and psychological distress. Patients with chronic headache/migraine experienced the smallest improvement in pain and HRQoL. Patients with fibromyalgia had the smallest improvement in psychological distress. Greater home meditation practice was associated with improvement on several outcome measures, including overall psychological distress, somatization symptoms, and self-rated health, but not pain and other quality of life scales. Conclusion MBSR treatment effects on pain, HRQoL and psychological well-being vary as a function of chronic pain condition and compliance with home meditation practice.</p>
<p>Mindfulness-based approaches are among the most innovative and interesting new approaches to mental health treatment. Mindfulness refers to patients developing an "awareness of present experience with acceptance." Interest in them is widespread, with presentations and workshops drawing large audiences all over the US and many other countries. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to the best-researched mindfulness-based treatments. It emphasizes detailed clinical illustration providing a close-up view of how these treatments are conducted, the skills required of therapists, and how they work. The book also has a solid foundation in theory and research and shows clearly how these treatments can be understood using accepted psychological principles and concepts. The evidence base for these treatments is concisely reviewed.* Comprehensive introduction to the best-researched mindfulness-based treatments* Covers wide range of problems & disorders (anxiety, depression, eating, psychosis, personality disorders, stress, pain, relationship problems, etc)* Discusses a wide range of populations (children, adolescents, older adults, couples)* Includes wide range of settings (outpatient, inpatient, medical, mental health, workplace)* Clinically rich, illustrative case study in every chapter* International perspectives represented (authors from US, Canada, Britain, Sweden)</p>
This article presents a conceptual model for the mindfulness-based psychotherapeutic treatment of chronic pain. It describes the process of mindfulness meditation and places it in the context of a practical model for conceptualizing pain. It presents case vignettes on the phenomenology and treatment of chronic pain. Resources for mindfulness are presented.
The cognitive modulation of pain is influenced by a number of factors ranging from attention, beliefs, conditioning, expectations, mood, and the regulation of emotional responses to noxious sensory events. Recently, mindfulness meditation has been found attenuate pain through some of these mechanisms including enhanced cognitive and emotional control, as well as altering the contextual evaluation of sensory events. This review discusses the brain mechanisms involved in mindfulness meditation-related pain relief across different meditative techniques, expertise and training levels, experimental procedures, and neuroimaging methodologies. Converging lines of neuroimaging evidence reveal that mindfulness meditation-related pain relief is associated with unique appraisal cognitive processes depending on expertise level and meditation tradition. Moreover, it is postulated that mindfulness meditation-related pain relief may share a common final pathway with other cognitive techniques in the modulation of pain.
Mindfulness is defined as paying attention in the present moment. We investigate the hypothesis that mindfulness training may alter or enhance specific aspects of attention. We examined three functionally and neuroanatomically distinct but overlapping attentional subsystems: alerting, orienting, and conflict monitoring. Functioning of each subsystem was indexed by performance on the Attention Network Test. Two types of mindfulness training (MT) programs were examined, and behavioral testing was conducted on participants before (Time 1) and after (Time 2) training. One training group consisted of individuals naive to mindfulness techniques who participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course that emphasized the development of concentrative meditation skills. The other training group consisted of individuals experienced in concentrative meditation techniques who participated in a 1-month intensive mindfulness retreat. Performance of these groups was compared with that of control participants who were meditation naive and received no MT. At Time 1, the participants in the retreat group demonstrated improved conflict monitoring performance relative to those in the MBSR and control groups. At Time 2, the participants in the MBSR course demonstrated significantly improved orienting in comparison with the control and retreat participants. In contrast, the participants in the retreat group demonstrated altered performance on the alerting component, with improvements in exogenous stimulus detection in comparison with the control and MBSR participants. The groups did not differ in conflict monitoring performance at Time 2. These results suggest that mindfulness training may improve attention-related behavioral responses by enhancing functioning of specific subcomponents of attention. Whereas participation in the MBSR course improved the ability to endogenously orient attention, retreat participation appeared to allow for the development and emergence of receptive attentional skills, which improved exogenous alerting-related process.
OBJECTIVE: Positron emission tomography was used to investigate the neural substrates of normal human emotional and their dependence on the types of emotional stimulus. METHOD: Twelve healthy female subjects underwent 12 measurements of regional brain activity following the intravenous bolus administration of [15O]H2O as they alternated between emotion-generating and control film and recall tasks. Automated image analysis techniques were used to characterize and compare the increases in regional brain activity associated with the emotional response to complex visual (film) and cognitive (recall) stimuli. RESULTS: Film- and recall-generated emotion were each associated with significantly increased activity in the vicinity of the medial prefrontal cortex and thalamus, suggesting that these regions participate in aspects of emotion that do not depend on the nature of the emotional stimulus. Film-generated emotion was associated with significantly greater increases in activity bilaterally in the occipitotemporparietal cortex, lateral cerebellum, hypothalamus, and a region that includes the anterior temporal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampal formation, suggesting that these regions participate in the emotional response to certain exteroceptive sensory stimuli. Recall-generated sadness was associated with significantly greater increases in activity in the vicinity of the anterior insular cortex, suggesting that this region participates in the emotional response to potentially distressing cognitive or interoceptive sensory stimuli. CONCLUSIONS: While this study should be considered preliminary, it identified brain regions that participate in externally and internally generated human emotion.
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.
<p>Social neuro-science has recently started to investigate the neuronal mechanisms underlying our ability to understand the mental and emotional states of others. In this review, imaging research conducted on theory of mind (ToM or mentalizing) and empathy is selectively reviewed. It is proposed that even though these abilities are often used as synonyms in the literature these capacities represent different abilities that rely on different neuronal circuitry. ToM refers to our ability to understand mental states such as intentions, goals and beliefs, and relies on structures of the temporal lobe and the pre-frontal cortex. In contrast, empathy refers to our ability to share the feelings (emotions and sensations) of others and relies on sensorimotor cortices as well as limbic and para-limbic structures. It is further argued that the concept of empathy as used in lay terms refers to a multi-level construct extending from simple forms of emotion contagion to complex forms of cognitive perspective taking. Future research should investigate the relative contribution of empathizing and mentalizing abilities in the understanding of other people's states. Finally, it is suggested that the abilities to understand other people's thoughts and to share their affects display different ontogenetic trajectories reflecting the different developmental paths of their underlying neural structures. In particular, empathy develops much earlier than mentalizing abilities, because the former relys on limbic structures which develop early in ontogeny, whereas the latter rely on lateral temporal lobe and pre-frontal structures which are among the last to fully mature.</p>
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.
Emotions can color people’s attitudes toward unrelated objects in the environment. Existing evidence suggests that such emotional coloring is particularly strong when emotion-triggering information escapes conscious awareness. But is emotional reactivity stronger after nonconscious emotional provocation than after conscious emotional provocation, or does conscious processing specifically change the association between emotional reactivity and evaluations of unrelated objects? In this study, we independently indexed emotional reactivity and coloring as a function of emotional-stimulus awareness to disentangle these accounts. Specifically, we recorded skin-conductance responses to spiders and fearful faces, along with subsequent preferences for novel neutral faces during visually aware and unaware states. Fearful faces increased skin-conductance responses comparably in both stimulus-aware and stimulus-unaware conditions. Yet only when visual awareness was precluded did skin-conductance responses to fearful faces predict decreased likability of neutral faces. These findings suggest a regulatory role for conscious awareness in breaking otherwise automatic associations between physiological reactivity and evaluative emotional responses.
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.
Pain can be modulated by several cognitive techniques, typically involving increased cognitive control and decreased sensory processing. Recently, it has been demonstrated that pain can also be attenuated by mindfulness. Here, we investigate the underlying brain mechanisms by which the state of mindfulness reduces pain. Mindfulness practitioners and controls received unpleasant electric stimuli in the functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner during a mindfulness and a control condition. Mindfulness practitioners, but not controls, were able to reduce pain unpleasantness by 22% and anticipatory anxiety by 29% during a mindful state. In the brain, this reduction was associated with decreased activation in the lateral prefrontal cortex and increased activation in the right posterior insula during stimulation and increased rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation during the anticipation of pain. These findings reveal a unique mechanism of pain modulation, comprising increased sensory processing and decreased cognitive control, and are in sharp contrast to established pain modulation mechanisms.