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To test the effects of cortisol on affective experience, the authors orally administered a placebo, 20 mg cortisol, or 40 mg cortisol to 85 men. Participants' affective responses to negative and neutral stimuli were measured. Self-reported affective state was also assessed. Participants in the 40-mg group (showing extreme cortisol elevations within the physiological range) rated neutral stimuli as more highly arousing than did participants in the placebo and 20-mg groups. Furthermore, within the 20-mg group, individuals with higher cortisol elevations made higher arousal ratings of neutral stimuli. However, cortisol was unrelated to self-reported affective state. Thus, findings indicate that acute cortisol elevations cause heightened arousal in response to objectively nonarousing stimuli, in the absence of effects on mood.
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Purpose Although quantitative benefits of mindfulness training have been demonstrated in youth, little is known about the processes involved. The aim of this study was to gain a detailed understanding of how young people engage with the ideas and practices known as mindfulness using qualitative enquiry. Methods Following completion of a six-week mindfulness training program with a nonclinical group of 11 young people (age 16–24), a focus group (N = 7) and open-ended interviews (n = 5) were held and audio-recorded. Qualitative data, collected at eight time points over three months from the commencement of training, were coded with the aid of computer software. Grounded theory methodology informed the data collection process and generation of themes and an explanatory model that captured participants' experiences. Results Participants described their daily lives as beset by frequent experiences of distress sometimes worsened by their unhelpful or destructive reactions. With mindfulness practice, they initially reported greater calm, balance, and control. Subsequently they commented on a clearer understanding of themselves and others. Mindfulness was then described as a “mindset” associated with greater confidence and competence and a lessened risk of future distress. Conclusions Participants demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of and engagement with mindfulness principles and practice. Their reported experience aligned well with qualitative research findings in adults and theoretical literature on mindfulness. An encouraging finding was that, with ongoing mindfulness practice and within a relatively short time, participants were able to move beyond improved emotion regulation and gain greater confidence in their ability to manage life challenges.
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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.
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In a test of the effects of cortisol on emotional memory, 90 men were orally administered placebo or 20 or 40 mg cortisol and presented with emotionally arousing and neutral stimuli. On memory tests administered within 1 hr of stimulus presentation, cortisol elevations caused a reduction in the number of errors committed on free-recall tasks. Two evenings later, when cortisol levels were no longer manipulated, inverted-U quadratic trends were found for recognition memory tasks, reflecting memory facilitation in the 20-mg group for both negative and neutral information. Results suggest that the effects of cortisol on memory do not differ substantially for emotional and neutral information. The study provides evidence of beneficial effects of acute cortisol elevations on explicit memory in humans.
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Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week training that is designed to teach participants mindful awareness of the present moment. In randomized clinical trials (RCTs), MBSR has demonstrated efficacy in various conditions including reducing chronic pain-related distress and improving quality of life in healthy individuals. There have, however, been no qualitative studies investigating participants' descriptions of changes experienced over multiple time points during the course of the programme. This qualitative study of an MBSR cohort (N = 8 healthy individuals) in a larger RCT examined participants' daily diary descriptions of their home-practice experiences. The study used a two-part method, combining grounded theory with a close-ended coding approach. The grounded theory analysis revealed that during the trial, all participants, to varying degrees, described moments of distress related to practice; at the end of the course, all participants who completed the training demonstrated greater detail and clarity in their descriptions, improved affect, and the emergence of an observing self. The closed-ended coding schema, carried out to shed light on the development of an observing self, revealed that the emergence of an observing self was not related to the valence of participants' experiential descriptions: even participants whose diaries contained predominantly negative characterizations of their experience throughout the trial were able, by the end of the trial, to demonstrate an observing, witnessing attitude towards their own distress. Progress in MBSR may rely less on the valence of participants' experiences and more on the way participants describe and relate to their own inner experience. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Key Practitioner Message: This article • Analyses the ways in which participants in a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) clinical trial describe their experiences with mindfulness practice. • Carries out qualitative analysis of the ways in which participants' descriptions of home-based meditation practice contained in their practice diaries change over the course of an 8-week MBSR trial. • Demonstrates that the participants who successfully completed the 8-week course show a common developmental trajectory, as each participant used less reactive, judgemental language to describe their home meditative practice-based experiences by the end of the trial, even when, in the case of some participants, that experience was perceived as negative or distressing. • Suggests that progress in MBSR may rely less on the valence of participants' experience and more on the way participants describe and relate to their own inner experience.
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In this study, we tested the validity of 2 popular assumptions about empathy: (a) empathy can be enhanced by oxytocin, a neuropeptide known to be crucial in affiliative behavior, and (b) individual differences in prosocial behavior are positively associated with empathic brain responses. To do so, we measured brain activity in a double-blind placebo-controlled study of 20 male participants either receiving painful stimulation to their own hand (self condition) or observing their female partner receiving painful stimulation to her hand (other condition). Prosocial behavior was measured using a monetary economic interaction game with which participants classified as prosocial (N = 12) or selfish (N = 6), depending on whether they cooperated with another player. Empathy-relevant brain activation (anterior insula) was neither enhanced by oxytocin nor positively associated with prosocial behavior. However, oxytocin reduced amygdala activation when participants received painful stimulation themselves (in the nonsocial condition). Surprisingly, this effect was driven by "selfish" participants. The results suggest that selfish individuals may not be as rational and unemotional as usually suggested, their actions being determined by their feeling anxious rather than by reason.
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Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in using neural oscillations to characterize the mechanisms supporting cognition and emotion. Oftentimes, oscillatory activity is indexed by mean power density in predefined frequency bands. Some investigators use broad bands originally defined by prominent surface features of the spectrum. Others rely on narrower bands originally defined by spectral factor analysis (SFA). Presently, the robustness and sensitivity of these competing band definitions remains unclear. Here, a Monte Carlo-based SFA strategy was used to decompose the tonic ("resting" or "spontaneous") electroencephalogram (EEG) into five bands: delta (1-5Hz), alpha-low (6-9Hz), alpha-high (10-11Hz), beta (12-19Hz), and gamma (>21Hz). This pattern was consistent across SFA methods, artifact correction/rejection procedures, scalp regions, and samples. Subsequent analyses revealed that SFA failed to deliver enhanced sensitivity; narrow alpha sub-bands proved no more sensitive than the classical broadband to individual differences in temperament or mean differences in task-induced activation. Other analyses suggested that residual ocular and muscular artifact was the dominant source of activity during quiescence in the delta and gamma bands. This was observed following threshold-based artifact rejection or independent component analysis (ICA)-based artifact correction, indicating that such procedures do not necessarily confer adequate protection. Collectively, these findings highlight the limitations of several commonly used EEG procedures and underscore the necessity of routinely performing exploratory data analyses, particularly data visualization, prior to hypothesis testing. They also suggest the potential benefits of using techniques other than SFA for interrogating high-dimensional EEG datasets in the frequency or time-frequency (event-related spectral perturbation, event-related synchronization/desynchronization) domains.
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We discuss preliminary findings from a study that investigated the effectiveness of a Holistic Arts-Based Group Program (HAP) for the development of resilience in children in need. The HAP teaches mindfulness using arts-based methods, and aims to teach children how to understand their feelings and develop their strengths. We assessed the effectiveness of the HAP by using comparison and control groups, and standardized measures. We hypothesized that children who participated in the HAP would have better scores on resilience and self-concept compared with children who took part in an Arts and Crafts group (the comparison group), and children who were waiting to attend the HAP (the control group). A total of 36 children participated in the study; 20 boys aged 8–13 years and 16 girls aged 8–14 years. A mixed-designed MANOVA was conducted using scores from 21 participants. We found evidence that the HAP program was beneficial for the children in that they self-reported lower emotional reactivity (a resilience measure) post-intervention. No changes were noted for perceptions of self-concept. Consideration should be given to how we can attend to young people’s needs in relevant ways as resilience is a condition of a community’s ability to provide resources as much as it is part of an individual’s capacity for growth. Programs such as the HAP can engage children in a creative and meaningful process that is enjoyable and strengths-based.
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Little is known about placebo effects with scientific precision. Poor methodology has confounded our understanding of the magnitude and even the existence of the placebo effect. Investigating placebo effects presents special research challenges including: the design of appropriate controls for studying placebo effects including separating such effects from natural history and regression to the mean, the need for large sample sizes to capture expected small effects, and the need to understand such potential effects from a patient's perspective. This article summarizes the methodology of an ongoing NIH-funded randomized controlled trial aimed at investigating whether the placebo effect in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) exists and whether the magnitude of such an effect can be manipulated to vary in a manner analogous to “dose dependence.” The trial also uses an innovative combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.
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Interest in mindfulness as a tool to improve health and well-being has increased rapidly over the past two decades. Limited qualitative research has been conducted on mindfulness and health. This study utilized in-depth interviews to explore the context, perceptions, and experiences of a sub-set of participants engaged in an acceptability study of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) among urban youth. Content analysis revealed that all in-depth interview participants reported experiencing some form of positive benefit and enhanced self-awareness as a result of MBSR program participation. Significant variation in the types and intensity of changes occurring was identified, ranging from a reframing and reduction of daily stressors to transformational shifts in life orientation and well-being. Variations in perceptions of and experiences with mindfulness should be studied in further depth in the context of prospective intervention research, including their potentially differential influence on mental and physical health outcomes.

Evidence that placebo acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic pain presents a puzzle: how do placebo needles appearing to patients to penetrate the body, but instead sitting on the skin’s surface in the manner of a tactile stimulus, evoke a healing response? Previous accounts of ritual touch healing in which patients often described enhanced touch sensations (including warmth, tingling or flowing sensations) suggest an embodied healing mechanism. In this qualitative study, we asked a subset of patients in a singleblind randomized trial in irritable bowel syndrome to describe their treatment experiences while undergoing placebo treament. Analysis focused on patients’ unprompted descriptions of any enhanced touch sensations (e.g., warmth, tingling) and any significance patients assigned to the sensations. We found in 5/6 cases, patients associated sensations including “warmth” and “tingling” with treatment efficacy. The conclusion offers a “neurophenomenological” account of the placebo effect by considering dynamic effects of attentional filtering on early sensory cortices, possibly underlying the phenomenology of placebo acupuncture.
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Psychotherapeutic interventions containing training in mindfulness meditation have been shown to help participants with a variety of somatic and psychological conditions. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a meditation-based psychotherapeutic intervention designed to help reduce the risk of relapse of recurrent depression. There is encouraging early evidence from multi-centre randomized controlled trials. However, little is known of the process by which MBCT may bring therapeutic benefits. This study set out to explore participants' accounts of MBCT in the mental-health context. Seven participants were interviewed in two phases. Interview data from four participants were obtained in the weeks following MBCT. Grounded theory techniques were used to identify several categories that combine to describe the ways in which mental-health difficulties arose as well as their experiences of MBCT. Three further participants who have continued to practise MBCT were interviewed so as to further validate, elucidate and extend these categories. The theory suggested that the preconceptions and expectations of therapy are important influences on later experiences of MBCT. Important areas of therapeutic change ('coming to terms') were identified, including the development of mindfulness skills, an attitude of acceptance and 'living in the moment'. The development of mindfulness skills was seen to hold a key role in the development of change. Generalization of these skills to everyday life was seen as important, and several ways in which this happened, including the use of breathing spaces, were discussed. The study emphasized the role of continued skills practice for participants' therapeutic gains. In addition, several of the concepts and categories offered support to cognitive accounts of mood disorder and the role of MBCT in reducing relapse.
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BACKGROUND: Anhedonia, a reduced ability to experience pleasure, is a chief symptom of major depressive disorder and is related to reduced frontostriatal connectivity when attempting to upregulate positive emotion. The present study examined another facet of positive emotion regulation associated with anhedonia-namely, the downregulation of positive affect-and its relation to prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity. METHODS: Neuroimaging data were collected from 27 individuals meeting criteria for major depressive disorder as they attempted to suppress positive emotion during a positive emotion regulation task. Their PFC activation pattern was compared with the PFC activation pattern exhibited by 19 healthy control subjects during the same task. Anhedonia scores were collected at three time points: at baseline (time 1), 8 weeks after time 1 (i.e., time 2), and 6 months after time 1 (i.e., time 3). Prefrontal cortex activity at time 1 was used to predict change in anhedonia over time. Analyses were conducted utilizing hierarchical linear modeling software. RESULTS: Depressed individuals who could not inhibit positive emotion-evinced by reduced right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activity during attempts to dampen their experience of positive emotion in response to positive visual stimuli-exhibited a steeper anhedonia reduction slope between baseline and 8 weeks of treatment with antidepressant medication (p < .05). Control subjects showed a similar trend between baseline and time 3. CONCLUSIONS: To reduce anhedonia, it may be necessary to teach individuals how to counteract the functioning of an overactive pleasure-dampening prefrontal inhibitory system.
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In this article, I argue that educators can utilize mindfulness practices to enhance the efficacy of anti-oppressive pedagogy. The philosophies of Wittgenstein and Nagarjuna provide a holistic human ontology and show that learning affects students at all levels: mind, body, emotion, and spirit. My analysis of the phenomenology of thinking reveals the modes of relationship to ideation. I have proposed mindfulness practice as a proven technique to address the non-cognitive forms of attachment to ideation that may remain in force despite the most thorough-going intellectual change. /// Dans cet article, l'auteure fait valoir que les enseignants peuvent utiliser des pratiques attentionnées pour augmenter l'efficacité de la pédagogie libertaire. Les philosophies de Wittgenstein et de Nagarjuna permettent une ontologie humaine holistique et démontrent que l'apprentissage affecte les étudiants sur tous les plans: l'intelligence, le corps, les émotions et l'esprit. Les analyses de la phénoménologie de la pensée révèlent les types de relation à l'idéation. La pratique attentionnée est proposée comme une technique qui a fait ses preuves pour traiter les formes d'attachement hors du champ cognitif à l'idéation qui demeure active malgré le plus profond changement intellectuel.