Anhedonia, the loss of pleasure or interest in previously rewarding stimuli, is a core feature of major depression. While theorists have argued that anhedonia reflects a reduced capacity to experience pleasure, evidence is mixed as to whether anhedonia is caused by a reduction in hedonic capacity. An alternative explanation is that anhedonia is due to the inability to sustain positive affect across time. Using positive images, we used an emotion regulation task to test whether individuals with depression are unable to sustain activation in neural circuits underlying positive affect and reward. While up-regulating positive affect, depressed individuals failed to sustain nucleus accumbens activity over time compared with controls. This decreased capacity was related to individual differences in self-reported positive affect. Connectivity analyses further implicated the fronto-striatal network in anhedonia. These findings support the hypothesis that anhedonia in depressed patients reflects the inability to sustain engagement of structures involved in positive affect and reward.
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.
Schools are searching for innovative ways to meet the unique academic, social-emotional, and behavioral needs of adolescents, many of whom face serious personal and family challenges. An innovative practice that is currently being introduced into school settings is meditation. Types of meditation offered in school-based settings include mindfulness meditation, the relaxation response, and Transcendental Meditation. These practices, as cognitive-behavioral interventions that are available for use by social workers and other school professionals, help students to enhance academic and psychosocial strengths and improve self-regulation capacities and coping abilities. This article defines meditation and meditative practices, reviews the literature showing the benefits and challenges of offering meditation to adolescents in a school-based setting, and describes the relevance of these practices for adolescents. The article also discusses implications for school social workers, teachers, and school administrators and reflects on the current research and future efforts toward building the research base for the promising practice of meditation in schools.
Recent literature has described how the capacity for concurrent self-assessment—ongoing moment-to-moment self-monitoring—is an important component of the professional competence of physicians. Self-monitoring refers to the ability to notice our own actions, curiosity to examine the effects of those actions, and willingness to use those observations to improve behavior and thinking in the future. Self-monitoring allows for the early recognition of cognitive biases, technical errors, and emotional reactions and may facilitate self-correction and development of therapeutic relationships. Cognitive neuroscience has begun to explore the brain functions associated with self-monitoring, and the structural and functional changes that occur during mental training to improve attentiveness, curiosity, and presence. This training involves cultivating habits of mind such as experiencing information as novel, thinking of “facts” as conditional, seeing situations from multiple perspectives, suspending categorization and judgment, and engaging in self-questioning. The resulting awareness is referred to as mindfulness and the associated moment-to-moment self-monitoring as mindful practice—in contrast to being on “automatic pilot” or “mindless” in one's behavior. This article is a preliminary exploration into the intersection of educational assessment, cognitive neuroscience, and mindful practice, with the hope of promoting ways of improving clinicians' capacity to self-monitor during clinical practice, and, by extension, improve the quality of care that they deliver.
Do people benefit when they think their partner has made a sacrifice for the relationship? In a multimethod study of 80 couples, we examined whether people can detect when their partner suppresses their emotions and if perceived partner suppression is costly for the recipient of sacrifice. When people listened to their partner recall an important sacrifice in the lab and when people thought their partner sacrificed in daily life, they thought that their partner was less authentic the more they perceived them to have suppressed their emotions. In turn, perceived partner inauthenticity during sacrifice was associated with poorer personal well-being and relationship quality. These effects persisted over time with perceived partner suppression predicting poorer relationship quality 3 months later. The results were independent from the influence of an actor’s projection of their own suppression and their partner’s actual suppression. Implications for research on emotion regulation and close relationships are discussed.
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.