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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.

Anxious temperament (AT) in human and non-human primates is a trait-like phenotype evident early in life that is characterized by increased behavioural and physiological reactivity to mildly threatening stimuli. Studies in children demonstrate that AT is an important risk factor for the later development of anxiety disorders, depression and comorbid substance abuse. Despite its importance as an early predictor of psychopathology, little is known about the factors that predispose vulnerable children to develop AT and the brain systems that underlie its expression. To characterize the neural circuitry associated with AT and the extent to which the function of this circuit is heritable, we studied a large sample of rhesus monkeys phenotyped for AT. Using 238 young monkeys from a multigenerational single-family pedigree, we simultaneously assessed brain metabolic activity and AT while monkeys were exposed to the relevant ethological condition that elicits the phenotype. High-resolution (18)F-labelled deoxyglucose positron-emission tomography (FDG-PET) was selected as the imaging modality because it provides semi-quantitative indices of absolute glucose metabolic rate, allows for simultaneous measurement of behaviour and brain activity, and has a time course suited for assessing temperament-associated sustained brain responses. Here we demonstrate that the central nucleus region of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus are key components of the neural circuit predictive of AT. We also show significant heritability of the AT phenotype by using quantitative genetic analysis. Additionally, using voxelwise analyses, we reveal significant heritability of metabolic activity in AT-associated hippocampal regions. However, activity in the amygdala region predictive of AT is not significantly heritable. Furthermore, the heritabilities of the hippocampal and amygdala regions significantly differ from each other. Even though these structures are closely linked, the results suggest differential influences of genes and environment on how these brain regions mediate AT and the ongoing risk of developing anxiety and depression.
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Many of us go through our daily lives on autopilot, not fully aware of our conscious experiences. In a discussion moderated by Steve Paulson, executive producer and host of To the Best of Our Knowledge, neuroscientists Richard Davidson and Amishi Jha and clinical mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn explore the role of consciousness in mental and physical health, how we can train our minds to be more flexible and adaptable, and cutting-edge neuroscience findings about the transformation of consciousness through mindfulness and contemplative practice. The following is an edited transcript of the discussion that occurred February 6, 2013, 7:00-8:15 PM, at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.

Many of us go through our daily lives on autopilot, not fully aware of our conscious experiences. In a discussion moderated by Steve Paulson, executive producer and host of To the Best of Our Knowledge, neuroscientists Richard Davidson and Amishi Jha and clinical mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn explore the role of consciousness in mental and physical health, how we can train our minds to be more flexible and adaptable, and cutting-edge neuroscience findings about the transformation of consciousness through mindfulness and contemplative practice. The following is an edited transcript of the discussion that occurred February 6, 2013, 7:00-8:15 PM, at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.
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Background Early life stress (ELS) can compromise development, with higher amounts of adversity linked to behavioral problems. To understand this linkage, a growing body of research has examined two brain regions involved with socioemotional functioning—amygdala and hippocampus. Yet empirical studies have reported increases, decreases, and no differences within human and nonhuman animal samples exposed to different forms of ELS. This divergence in findings may stem from methodological factors, nonlinear effects of ELS, or both. Methods We completed rigorous hand-tracing of the amygdala and hippocampus in three samples of children who experienced different forms of ELS (i.e., physical abuse, early neglect, or low socioeconomic status). Interviews were also conducted with children and their parents or guardians to collect data about cumulative life stress. The same data were also collected in a fourth sample of comparison children who had not experienced any of these forms of ELS. Results Smaller amygdala volumes were found for children exposed to these different forms of ELS. Smaller hippocampal volumes were also noted for children who were physically abused or from low socioeconomic status households. Smaller amygdala and hippocampal volumes were also associated with greater cumulative stress exposure and behavioral problems. Hippocampal volumes partially mediated the relationship between ELS and greater behavioral problems. Conclusions This study suggests ELS may shape the development of brain areas involved with emotion processing and regulation in similar ways. Differences in the amygdala and hippocampus may be a shared diathesis for later negative outcomes related to ELS.
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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.

Biological systems are particularly prone to variation, and the authors argue that such variation must be regarded as important data in its own right. The authors describe a method in which individual differences are studied within the framework of a general theory of the population as a whole and illustrate how this method can be used to address three types of issues: the nature of the mechanisms that give rise to a specific ability, such as mental imagery; the role of psychological or biological mediators of environmental challenges, such as the biological bases for differences in dispositional mood; and the existence of processes that have nonadditive effects with behavioral and physiological variables, such as factors that modulate the response to stress and its effects on the immune response.
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Despite the call for multilevel observation of negative affect, including multiple physiological systems, too little empirical research has been conducted in infants and young children, and physiology-affect associations are not consistently reported. We examined changes in heart rate, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, and preejection period in 24-month-olds across four increasingly challenging, emotion-eliciting tasks. We predicted that changes in cardiac reactivity would be systematically related to changes in negative affect. Results largely support the predictions with one important exception. With increasing distress across the tasks, HR increased and RSA decreased. However, no significant changes in PEP were observed. HR was associated with negative affect during all tasks, and changes in HR were related to changes in negative affect. PEP and negative affect were associated, but only marginally so. Within-subject analyses confirmed the predicted associations. Finally, the associations between physiology and negative affect were different for boys and girls. We discuss these results in the context of implications for future research on cardiac-affect associations in young children.
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This article reports the development of the 54-item College Chronic Life Stress Survey (CCLSS) and its use in prospective studies of the relationship between chronic stress and psychological distress in college students. Study 1 demonstrated the CCLSS's test-retest reliability and concurrent validity (best friend corroboration of specific items). Study 1 also revealed differential endorsement of specific CCLSS items as a function of gender and year in college. Study 2 cross-sectional and prospective analyses showed that CCLSS chronic stress was a significant predictor of distress. Study 3 cross-sectional analyses showed that the CCLSS effects withstood the statistical control of neuroticism. The findings suggest the value of future research on chronic stress and demonstrate the utility of the CCLSS in studies with college students.

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.
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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.
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Psychological stress is a major provocative factor of symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. In recent years, interest in addressing stress responsivity through meditation training in health-related domains has increased astoundingly, despite a paucity of evidence that reported benefits are specific to meditation practice. We designed the present study to rigorously compare an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP) in ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and inflammation was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Immune and endocrine measures of inflammation and stress were collected both before and after MBSR training. Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones. These results suggest behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions. Moreover, mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the HEP program.

Psychological stress is a major provocative factor of symptoms in chronic inflammatory conditions. In recent years, interest in addressing stress responsivity through meditation training in health-related domains has increased astoundingly, despite a paucity of evidence that reported benefits are specific to meditation practice. We designed the present study to rigorously compare an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention to a well-matched active control intervention, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP) in ability to reduce psychological stress and experimentally-induced inflammation. The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was used to induce psychological stress and inflammation was produced using topical application of capsaicin cream to forearm skin. Immune and endocrine measures of inflammation and stress were collected both before and after MBSR training. Results show those randomized to MBSR and HEP training had comparable post-training stress-evoked cortisol responses, as well as equivalent reductions in self-reported psychological distress and physical symptoms. However, MBSR training resulted in a significantly smaller post-stress inflammatory response compared to HEP, despite equivalent levels of stress hormones. These results suggest behavioral interventions designed to reduce emotional reactivity may be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions. Moreover, mindfulness practice, in particular, may be more efficacious in symptom relief than the well-being promoting activities cultivated in the HEP program.
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Electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings from 19 scalp recording sites were used to differentiate among two posited unique forms of mediation, concentration and mindfulness, and a normal relaxation control condition. Analyzes of all traditional frequency bandwidth data (i.e., delta 1–3 Hz; theta, 4–7 Hz; alpha, 8–12 Hz; beta 1, 13–25 Hz; beta 2, 26–32 Hz) showed strong mean amplitude frequency differences between the two meditation conditions and relaxation over numerous cortical sites. Furthermore, significant differences were obtained between concentration and mindfulness states at all bandwidths. Taken together, our results suggest that concentration and mindfulness “meditations” may be unique forms of consciousness and are not merely degrees of a state of relaxation.

Contemplative practices, from meditation to Zen, are growing in popularity as methods to inspire physical and mental health. "Contemplative Practices in Action: Spirituality, Meditation, and Health" offers readers an introduction to these practices and the ways they can be used in the service of well being, wisdom, healing, and stress reduction. Bringing together various traditions from the East and West, this thought-provoking work summarizes the history of each practice, highlights classic and emerging research proving its power, and details how each practice is performed. Expert authors offer step-by-step approaches to practice methods including the 8-Point Program of Passage Meditation, Centering Prayer, mindful stress management, mantram meditation, energizing meditation, yoga, and Zen. Beneficial practices from Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic religions are also featured. Vignettes illustrate each of the practices, while the contributors explain how and why they are effective in facing challenges as varied as the loss of a partner or child, job loss, chronic pain or disease, or psychological disorders.

Poor sleep is common in substance use disorders (SUDs) and is a risk factor for relapse. Within the context of a multicomponent, mindfulness-based sleep intervention that included mindfulness meditation (MM) for adolescent outpatients with SUDs (n = 55), this analysis assessed the contributions of MM practice intensity to gains in sleep quality and self-efficacy related to SUDs. Eighteen adolescents completed a 6-session study intervention and questionnaires on psychological distress, sleep quality, mindfulness practice, and substance use at baseline, 8, 20, and 60 weeks postentry. Program participation was associated with improvements in sleep and emotional distress, and reduced substance use. MM practice frequency correlated with increased sleep duration and improvement in self-efficacy about substance use. Increased sleep duration was associated with improvements in psychological distress, relapse resistance, and substance use-related problems. These findings suggest that sleep is an important therapeutic target in substance abusing adolescents and that MM may be a useful component to promote improved sleep.

Poor sleep is common in substance use disorders (SUDs) and is a risk factor for relapse. Within the context of a multicomponent, mindfulness-based sleep intervention that included mindfulness meditation (MM) for adolescent outpatients with SUDs (n = 55), this analysis assessed the contributions of MM practice intensity to gains in sleep quality and self-efficacy related to SUDs. Eighteen adolescents completed a 6-session study intervention and questionnaires on psychological distress, sleep quality, mindfulness practice, and substance use at baseline, 8, 20, and 60 weeks postentry. Program participation was associated with improvements in sleep and emotional distress, and reduced substance use. MM practice frequency correlated with increased sleep duration and improvement in self-efficacy about substance use. Increased sleep duration was associated with improvements in psychological distress, relapse resistance, and substance use-related problems. These findings suggest that sleep is an important therapeutic target in substance abusing adolescents and that MM may be a useful component to promote improved sleep.
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Summary Stress disorders are among the most commonly occurring of all mental disorders. In this context, the question arises whether the stress inevitably unfolding around us has the potential to “contaminate” and compromise us. In the current multi-center study, we investigate the existence of such empathic stress (defined as a full-blown physiological stress response that arises solely by observing a target undergo a stressful situation), and whether empathic stress permeates to the core of the stress system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Additionally, we investigate whether empathic stress responses may be modulated by the familiarity between observer and target (partners vs. strangers), the modality of observation (real-life vs. virtual) and observer sex (female vs. male). Participants were tested in dyads, paired with a loved one or a stranger of the opposite sex. While the target of the dyad (n = 151) was exposed to a psychosocial stressor, the observer (n = 211) watched through a one-way mirror or via live video transmission. Overall, 26% of the observers displayed physiologically significant cortisol increases. This empathic stress was more pronounced in intimate observer-target dyads (40%) and during the real-life representation of the stressor (30%). Empathic stress was further modulated by interindividual differences in empathy measures. Despite the higher prevalence of empathic stress in the partner and real-life observation conditions, significant cortisol responses also emerged in strangers (10%) and the virtual observation modality (24%). The occurrence of empathic stress down to the level of HPA-axis activation, in some cases even in total strangers and when only virtually witnessing another's distress, may have important implications for the development of stress-related diseases.
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While much attention has been devoted to examining the beneficial effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs on patients' ability to cope with various chronic medical conditions, most studies have relied on self-report measures of improvement. Given that these measures may not accurately reflect physiological conditions, there is a need for an objective marker of improvement in research evaluating the beneficial effects of stress management programs. Cortisol is the major stress hormone in the human organism and as such is a promising candidate measure in the study of the effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs. In conjunction with other biological measures, the use of cortisol levels as a physiological marker of stress may be useful to validate self-reported benefits attributed to this program. In the current manuscript, we review the available literature on the role of cortisol as a physiological marker for improvement with regards to mindfulness practice, and make recommendations for future study designs.

Demands faced by health care professionals include heavy caseloads, limited control over the work environment, long hours, as well as organizational structures and systems in transition. Such conditions have been directly linked to increased stress and symptoms of burnout, which in turn, have adverse consequences for clinicians and the quality of care that is provided to patients. Consequently, there exists an impetus for the development of curriculum aimed at fostering wellness and the necessary self-care skills for clinicians. This review will examine the potential benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs aimed at enhancing well-being and coping with stress in this population. Empirical evidence indicates that participation in MBSR yields benefits for clinicians in the domains of physical and mental health. Conceptual and methodological limitations of the existing studies and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Abstract Objective: This study examined whether mindfulness increased through participation in movement-based courses and whether changes in self-regulatory self-efficacy, mood, and perceived stress mediated the relationship between increased mindfulness and better sleep. Participants: 166 college students enrolled in the 2007–2008 academic year in 15 week classes in Pilates, Taiji quan, or GYROKINESIS. Methods: At beginning, middle, and end of the semester, participants completed measures of mindfulness, self-regulatory self-efficacy, mood, perceived stress, and sleep quality. Results: Total mindfulness scores and mindfulness subscales increased overall. Greater changes in mindfulness were directly related to better sleep quality at the end of the semester after adjusting for sleep disturbance at the beginning. Tiredness, Negative Arousal, Relaxation, and Perceived Stress mediated the effect of increased mindfulness on improved sleep. Conclusions: Movement-based courses can increase mindfulness. Increased mindfulness accounts for changes in mood and perceived stress, which explain, in part, improved sleep quality.

Early life stress (ELS) and function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis predict later psychopathology. Animal studies and cross-sectional human studies suggest that this process might operate through amygdala-ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) circuitry implicated in the regulation of emotion. Here we prospectively investigated the roles of ELS and childhood basal cortisol amounts in the development of adolescent resting-state functional connectivity (rs-FC), assessed by functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI), in the amygdala-PFC circuit. In females only, greater ELS predicted increased childhood cortisol levels, which predicted decreased amygdala-vmPFC rs-FC 14 years later. For females, adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity was inversely correlated with concurrent anxiety symptoms but positively associated with depressive symptoms, suggesting differing pathways from childhood cortisol levels function through adolescent amygdala-vmPFC functional connectivity to anxiety and depression. These data highlight that, for females, the effects of ELS and early HPA-axis function may be detected much later in the intrinsic processing of emotion-related brain circuits.
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Mindfulness meditation practices (MMPs) are a subgroup of meditation practices which are receiving growing attention. The present paper reviews current evidence about the effects of MMPs on objective measures of cognitive functions. Five databases were searched. Twenty three studies providing measures of attention, memory, executive functions and further miscellaneous measures of cognition were included. Fifteen were controlled or randomized controlled studies and 8 were case–control studies. Overall, reviewed studies suggested that early phases of mindfulness training, which are more concerned with the development of focused attention, could be associated with significant improvements in selective and executive attention whereas the following phases, which are characterized by an open monitoring of internal and external stimuli, could be mainly associated with improved unfocused sustained attention abilities. Additionally, MMPs could enhance working memory capacity and some executive functions. However, many of the included studies show methodological limitations and negative results have been reported as well, plausibly reflecting differences in study design, study duration and patients' populations. Accordingly, even though findings here reviewed provided preliminary evidence suggesting that MMPs could enhance cognitive functions, available evidence should be considered with caution and further high quality studies investigating more standardized mindfulness meditation programs are needed.

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.
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Studies on the effects of mindfulness interventions on mental health and behavioral problems in children show promising results, but are primarily conducted with selected samples of children. The few studies investigating school-based interventions used self-selected samples, provided training outside of the classroom, and did not report longer-term effects. The immediate and longer-term effects of a class-based mindfulness intervention for elementary school children were investigated as a primary prevention program (MindfulKids) to reduce stress and stress-related mental health and behavioral problems. Children (8–12 years) from three elementary schools participated. Classes were randomized to an immediate-intervention group (N = 95) or a waitlist-control group (N = 104), which received the intervention after a waitlist period. Twelve 30-min sessions were delivered in 6 weeks. At baseline, pretest, posttest, and follow-up, variables indicative of stress and metal well-being were assessed with children, variables indicative of mental health problems were assessed with parents, and teachers reported on class climate. Multilevel analysis revealed that there were no significant changes from baseline to pretest. Some primary prevention effects on stress and well-being were found directly after training and some became more apparent at follow-up. Effects on mental health problems also became apparent at follow-up. MindfulKids seems to have a primary preventive effect on stress, well-being, and behavior in schoolchildren, as reported by children and parents. Exploratory analysis revealed that children who ruminate more are affected differently by the intervention than children who ruminate less. It is concluded that mindfulness training can be incorporated in elementary schools at the class level, letting all children benefit from the intervention.

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