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.
Although the co-occurrence of negative affect and pain is well recognized, the mechanism underlying their association is unclear. To examine whether a common self-regulatory ability impacts the experience of both emotion and pain, we integrated neuroimaging, behavioral, and physiological measures obtained from three assessments separated by substantial temporal intervals. Our results demonstrated that individual differences in emotion regulation ability, as indexed by an objective measure of emotional state, corrugator electromyography, predicted self-reported success while regulating pain. In both emotion and pain paradigms, the amygdala reflected regulatory success. Notably, we found that greater emotion regulation success was associated with greater change of amygdalar activity following pain regulation. Furthermore, individual differences in degree of amygdalar change following emotion regulation were a strong predictor of pain regulation success, as well as of the degree of amygdalar engagement following pain regulation. These findings suggest that common individual differences in emotion and pain regulatory success are reflected in a neural structure known to contribute to appraisal processes.
OBJECTIVE: The anticipation of adverse outcomes, or worry, is a cardinal symptom of generalized anxiety disorder. Prior work with healthy subjects has shown that anticipating aversive events recruits a network of brain regions, including the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex. This study tested whether patients with generalized anxiety disorder have alterations in anticipatory amygdala function and whether anticipatory activity in the anterior cingulate cortex predicts treatment response. METHOD: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was employed with 14 generalized anxiety disorder patients and 12 healthy comparison subjects matched for age, sex, and education. The event-related fMRI paradigm was composed of one warning cue that preceded aversive pictures and a second cue that preceded neutral pictures. Following the fMRI session, patients received 8 weeks of treatment with extended-release venlafaxine. RESULTS: Patients with generalized anxiety disorder showed greater anticipatory activity than healthy comparison subjects in the bilateral dorsal amygdala preceding both aversive and neutral pictures. Building on prior reports of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity predicting treatment response, anticipatory activity in that area was associated with clinical outcome 8 weeks later following treatment with venlafaxine. Higher levels of pretreatment anterior cingulate cortex activity in anticipation of both aversive and neutral pictures were associated with greater reductions in anxiety and worry symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: These findings of heightened and indiscriminate amygdala responses to anticipatory signals in generalized anxiety disorder and of anterior cingulate cortex associations with treatment response provide neurobiological support for the role of anticipatory processes in the pathophysiology of generalized anxiety disorder.
Interest in mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents is burgeoning, bringing with it the need for validated instruments to assess mindfulness in youths. The present studies were designed to validate among adolescents a measure of mindfulness previously validated for adults (e.g., Brown & Ryan, 2003), which we herein call the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale—Adolescent (MAAS–A). In 2 large samples of healthy 14- to 18-year-olds (N = 595), Study 1 supported a single-factor MAAS–A structure, along with acceptably high internal consistency, test–retest reliability, and both concurrent and incremental validity. In Study 2, with a sample of 102 psychiatric outpatient adolescents age 14–18 years, participants randomized to a mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention showed significant increases in MAAS–A scores from baseline to 3-month follow-up, relative to nonsignificant score changes among treatment-as-usual participants. Increases in MAAS–A scores among mindfulness-based stress reduction participants were significantly related to beneficial changes in numerous mental health indicators. The findings support the reliability and validity of the MAAS–A in normative and mixed psychiatric adolescent populations and suggest that the MAAS–A has utility in mindfulness intervention research.
This article presents 4 studies (N = 1,413) describing the development and validation of the Child and Adolescent Mindfulness Measure (CAMM). In Study 1 (n = 428), the authors determined procedures for item development and examined comprehensibility of the initial 25 items. In Study 2 (n = 334), they reduced the initial item pool from 25 to 10 items through exploratory factor analysis. Study 3 (n = 332) evaluated the final 10-item measure in a cross-validation sample, and Study 4 (n = 319) determined validity coefficients for the CAMM using bivariate and partial correlations with relevant variables. Results suggest that the CAMM is a developmentally appropriate measure with adequate internal consistency. As expected, CAMM scores were positively correlated with quality of life, academic competence, and social skills and negatively correlated with somatic complaints, internalizing symptoms, and externalizing behavior problems. Correlations were reduced but generally still significant after controlling for the effects of 2 overlapping processes (thought suppression and psychological inflexibility). Overall, results suggest that the CAMM may be a useful measure of mindfulness skills for school-aged children and adolescents.
Thirty-two participants were tested for both resting electroencephalography (EEG) and neuropsychological function. Eight one-minute trials of resting EEG were recorded from 14 channels referenced to linked ears, which was rederived to an average reference. Neuropsychological tasks included Verbal Fluency, the Tower of London, and Corsi's Recurring Blocks. Asymmetries in EEG alpha activity were correlated with performance on these tasks. Similar patterns were obtained for delta and theta bands. Factor analyses of resting EEG asymmetries over particular regions suggested that asymmetries over anterior scalp regions may be partly independent from those over posterior scalp regions. These results support the notions that resting EEG asymmetries are specified by multiple mechanisms along the rostral/caudal plane, and that these asymmetries predict task performance in a manner consistent with lesion and neuroimaging studies.
Mindfulness is an attribute of consciousness long believed to promote well-being. This research provides a theoretical and empirical examination of the role of mindfulness in psychological well-being. The development and psychometric properties of the dispositional Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) are described. Correlational, quasi-experimental, and laboratory studies then show that the MAAS measures a unique quality of consciousness that is related to a variety of well-being constructs, that differentiates mindfulness practitioners from others, and that is associated with enhanced self-awareness. An experience-sampling study shows that both dispositional and state mindfulness predict self-regulated behavior and positive emotional states. Finally, a clinical intervention study with cancer patients demonstrates that increases in mindfulness over time relate to declines in mood disturbance and stress.
The anterior medial prefrontal (AMPFC) and retrosplenial (RSC) cortices are active during self-referential decision-making tasks such as when participants appraise traits and abilities, or current affect. Other appraisal tasks requiring an evaluative decision or mental representation, such as theory of mind and perspective-taking tasks, also involve these regions. In many instances, these types of decisions involve a subjective opinion or preference, but also a degree of ambiguity in the decision, rather than a strictly veridical response. However, this ambiguity is generally not controlled for in studies that examine self-referential decision-making. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment with 17 healthy adults, we examined neural processes associated with subjective decision-making with and without an overt self-referential component. The task required subjective decisions about colors-regarding self-preference (internal subjective decision) or color similarity (external subjective decision) under conditions where there was no objectively correct response. Results indicated greater activation in the AMPFC, RSC, and caudate nucleus during internal subjective decision-making. The findings suggest that self-referential processing, rather than subjective judgments among ambiguous response alternatives, accounted for the AMPFC and RSC response.
Some children show emotion that is not consistent with normative appraisal of the context and can therefore be defined as context inappropriate (CI). The authors used individual growth curve modeling and hierarchical multiple regression analyses to examine whether CI anger predicts differences in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity, as manifest in salivary cortisol measures. About 23% of the 360 children (ages 6-10 years, primarily 7-8) showed at least 1 expression of CI anger in situations designed to elicit positive affect. Expression of anger across 2 positive assessments was less common (around 4%). CI anger predicted the hypothesized lower levels of cortisol beyond that attributed to context appropriate anger. Boys' CI anger predicted lower morning cortisol and flatter slopes. Results suggest that this novel approach to studying children's emotion across varying contexts can provide insight into affective style.
Previous research indicates that lower-class individuals experience elevated negative emotions as compared with their upper-class counterparts. We examine how the environments of lower-class individuals can also promote greater compassionate responding-that is, concern for the suffering or well-being of others. In the present research, we investigate class-based differences in dispositional compassion and its activation in situations wherein others are suffering. Across studies, relative to their upper-class counterparts, lower-class individuals reported elevated dispositional compassion (Study 1), as well as greater self-reported compassion during a compassion-inducing video (Study 2) and for another person during a social interaction (Study 3). Lower-class individuals also exhibited heart rate deceleration-a physiological response associated with orienting to the social environment and engaging with others-during the compassion-inducing video (Study 2). We discuss a potential mechanism of class-based influences on compassion, whereby lower-class individuals' are more attuned to others' distress, relative to their upper-class counterparts.
Chaotic conditions are a prevalent and threatening feature of social life. Five studies examined whether social class underlies divergent responses to perceptions of chaos in one's social environments and outcomes. The authors hypothesized that when coping with perceptions of chaos, lower class individuals tend to prioritize community, relative to upper class individuals, who instead tend to prioritize material wealth. Consistent with these predictions, when personally confronting chaos, lower class individuals were more communally oriented (Study 1), more connected with their community (Study 2), and more likely to volunteer for a community-building project (Study 3), compared to upper class individuals. In contrast, perceptions of chaos caused upper class individuals to express greater reliance on wealth (Study 4) and prefer financial gain over membership in a close-knit community (Study 5), relative to lower class individuals. These findings suggest that social class shapes how people respond to perceptions of chaos and cope with its threatening consequences.
We present a novel data smoothing and analysis framework for cortical thickness data defined on the brain cortical manifold. Gaussian kernel smoothing, which weights neighboring observations according to their 3D Euclidean distance, has been widely used in 3D brain images to increase the signal-to-noise ratio. When the observations lie on a convoluted brain surface, however, it is more natural to assign the weights based on the geodesic distance along the surface. We therefore develop a framework for geodesic distance-based kernel smoothing and statistical analysis on the cortical manifolds. As an illustration, we apply our methods in detecting the regions of abnormal cortical thickness in 16 high functioning autistic children via random field based multiple comparison correction that utilizes the new smoothing technique.
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.
In rodents, theta rhythm has been linked to the hippocampal formation, as well as other regions, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). To test the role of the ACC in theta rhythm, concurrent measurements of brain electrical activity (EEG) and glucose metabolism (PET) were performed in 29 subjects at baseline. EEG data were analyzed with a source localization technique that enabled voxelwise correlations of EEG and PET data. For theta, but not other bands, the rostral ACC (Brodmann areas 24/32) was the largest cluster with positive correlations between current density and glucose metabolism. Positive correlations were also found in right fronto-temporal regions. In control but not depressed subjects, theta within ACC and prefrontal/orbitofrontal regions was positively correlated. The results reveal a link between theta and cerebral metabolism in the ACC as well as disruption of functional connectivity within frontocingulate pathways in depression.
Sensitivity, specificity, and reproducibility are vital to interpret neuroscientific results from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments. Here we examine the scan-rescan reliability of the percent signal change (PSC) and parameters estimated using Dynamic Causal Modeling (DCM) in scans taken in the same scan session, less than 5 min apart. We find fair to good reliability of PSC in regions that are involved with the task, and fair to excellent reliability with DCM. Also, the DCM analysis uncovers group differences that were not present in the analysis of PSC, which implies that DCM may be more sensitive to the nuances of signal changes in fMRI data.
Individuals who experience early adversity, such as child maltreatment, are at heightened risk for a broad array of social and health difficulties. However, little is known about how this behavioral risk is instantiated in the brain. Here we examine a neurobiological contribution to individual differences in human behavior using methodology appropriate for use with pediatric populations paired with an in-depth measure of social behavior. We show that alterations in the orbitofrontal cortex among individuals who experienced physical abuse are related to social difficulties. These data suggest a biological mechanism linking early social learning to later behavioral outcomes.
We investigated the impact of mindfulness training (MT) on working memory capacity (WMC) and affective experience. WMC is used in managing cognitive demands and regulating emotions. Yet, persistent and intensive demands, such as those experienced during high-stress intervals, may deplete WMC and lead to cognitive failures and emotional disturbances. We hypothesized that MT may mitigate these deleterious effects by bolstering WMC. We recruited 2 military cohorts during the high-stress predeployment interval and provided MT to 1 (MT, n = 31) but not the other group (military control group, MC, n = 17). The MT group attended an 8-week MT course and logged the amount of out-of-class time spent practicing formal MT exercises. The operation span task was used to index WMC at 2 testing sessions before and after the MT course. Although WMC remained stable over time in civilians (n = 12), it degraded in the MC group. In the MT group, WMC decreased over time in those with low MT practice time, but increased in those with high practice time. Higher MT practice time also corresponded to lower levels of negative affect and higher levels of positive affect (indexed by the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule). The relationship between practice time and negative, but not positive, affect was mediated by WMC, indicating that MT-related improvements in WMC may support some but not all of MT's salutary effects. Nonetheless, these findings suggest that sufficient MT practice may protect against functional impairments associated with high-stress contexts.
Although individuals experience embarrassment as an unpleasant, negative emotion, the authors argue that expressions of embarrassment serve vital social functions, signaling the embarrassed individual's prosociality and fostering trust. Extending past research on embarrassment as a nonverbal apology and appeasement gesture, the authors demonstrate that observers recognize the expression of embarrassment as a signal of prosociality and commitment to social relationships. In turn, observers respond with affiliative behaviors toward the signaler, including greater trust and desire to affiliate with the embarrassed individual. Five studies tested these hypotheses and ruled out alternative explanations. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals who are more embarrassable also reported greater prosociality and behaved more generously than their less embarrassable counterparts. Results of Studies 2-5 revealed that observers rated embarrassed targets as being more prosocial and less antisocial relative to targets who displayed either a different emotion or no emotion. In addition, observers were more willing to give resources and express a desire to affiliate with these targets, and these effects were mediated by perceptions of the targets as prosocial.
BACKGROUND: The broad autism phenotype includes subclinical autistic characteristics found to have a higher prevalence in unaffected family members of individuals with autism. These characteristics primarily affect the social aspects of language, communication, and human interaction. The current research focuses on possible neurobehavioral characteristics associated with the broad autism phenotype. METHODS: We used a face-processing task associated with atypical patterns of gaze fixation and brain function in autism while collecting brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and eye tracking in unaffected siblings of individuals with autism. RESULTS: We found robust differences in gaze fixation and brain function in response to images of human faces in unaffected siblings compared with typically developing control individuals. The siblings' gaze fixations and brain activation patterns during the face processing task were similar to that of the autism group and showed decreased gaze fixation along with diminished fusiform activation compared with the control group. Furthermore, amygdala volume in the siblings was similar to the autism group and was significantly reduced compared with the control group. CONCLUSIONS: Together, these findings provide compelling evidence for differences in social/emotional processing and underlying neural circuitry in siblings of individuals with autism, supporting the notion of unique endophenotypes associated with the broad autism phenotype.
Recent studies have identified a distributed network of brain regions thought to support cognitive reappraisal processes underlying emotion regulation in response to affective images, including parieto-temporal regions and lateral/medial regions of prefrontal cortex (PFC). A number of these commonly activated regions are also known to underlie visuospatial attention and oculomotor control, which raises the possibility that people use attentional redeployment rather than, or in addition to, reappraisal as a strategy to regulate emotion. We predicted that a significant portion of the observed variance in brain activation during emotion regulation tasks would be associated with differences in how participants visually scan the images while regulating their emotions. We recorded brain activation using fMRI and quantified patterns of gaze fixation while participants increased or decreased their affective response to a set of affective images. fMRI results replicated previous findings on emotion regulation with regulation differences reflected in regions of PFC and the amygdala. In addition, our gaze fixation data revealed that when regulating, individuals changed their gaze patterns relative to a control condition. Furthermore, this variation in gaze fixation accounted for substantial amounts of variance in brain activation. These data point to the importance of controlling for gaze fixation in studies of emotion regulation that use visual stimuli.
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.
Dozens of studies in different nations have revealed that socioeconomic status only weakly predicts an individual's subjective well-being (SWB). These results imply that although the pursuit of social status is a fundamental human motivation, achieving high status has little impact on one's SWB. However, we propose that sociometric status-the respect and admiration one has in face-to-face groups (e.g., among friends or coworkers)-has a stronger effect on SWB than does socioeconomic status. Using correlational, experimental, and longitudinal methodologies, four studies found consistent evidence for a local-ladder effect: Sociometric status significantly predicted satisfaction with life and the experience of positive and negative emotions. Longitudinally, as sociometric status rose or fell, SWB rose or fell accordingly. Furthermore, these effects were driven by feelings of power and social acceptance. Overall, individuals' sociometric status matters more to their SWB than does their socioeconomic status.