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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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We investigated the reliability and validity of a video-based method of measuring the magnitude of children's emotion-modulated startle response when electromyographic (EMG) measurement is not feasible. Thirty-one children between the ages of 4 and 7 years were videotaped while watching short video clips designed to elicit happiness or fear. Embedded in the audio track of the video clips were acoustic startle probes. A coding system was developed to quantify from the video record the strength of the eye-blink startle response to the probes. EMG measurement of the eye blink was obtained simultaneously. Intercoder reliability for the video coding was high (Cohen's kappa = .90). The average within-subjects probe-by-probe correlation between the EMG- and video-based methods was .84. Group-level correlations between the methods were also strong, and there was some evidence of emotion modulation of the startle response with both the EMG- and the video-derived data. Although the video method cannot be used to assess the latency, probability, or duration of startle blinks, the findings indicate that it can serve as a valid proxy of EMG in the assessment of the magnitude of emotion-modulated startle in studies of children conducted outside of a laboratory setting, where traditional psychophysiological methods are not feasible.
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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. [1994]: Nature 392:543-546; Mangun et al. [1997]: 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.
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On the basis of the widespread belief that emotions underpin psychological adjustment, the authors tested 3 predicted relations between externalizing problems and anger, internalizing problems and fear and sadness, and the absence of externalizing problems and social-moral emotion (embarrassment). Seventy adolescent boys were classified into 1 of 4 comparison groups on the basis of teacher reports using a behavior problem checklist: internalizers, externalizers, mixed (both internalizers and externalizers), and nondisordered boys. The authors coded the facial expressions of emotion shown by the boys during a structured social interaction. Results supported the 3 hypotheses: (a) Externalizing adolescents showed increased facial expressions of anger, (b) on 1 measure internalizing adolescents showed increased facial expressions of fear, and (c) the absence of externalizing problems (or nondisordered classification) was related to increased displays of embarrassment. Discussion focused on the relations of these findings to hypotheses concerning the role of impulse control in antisocial behavior.
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The development of social emotions such as compassion is crucial for successful social interactions as well as for the maintenance of mental and physical health, especially when confronted with distressing life events. Yet, the neural mechanisms supporting the training of these emotions are poorly understood. To study affective plasticity in healthy adults, we measured functional neural and subjective responses to witnessing the distress of others in a newly developed task (Socio-affective Video Task). Participants’ initial empathic responses to the task were accompanied by negative affect and activations in the anterior insula and anterior medial cingulate cortex—a core neural network underlying empathy for pain. Whereas participants reacted with negative affect before training, compassion training increased positive affective experiences, even in response to witnessing others in distress. On the neural level, we observed that, compared with a memory control group, compassion training elicited activity in a neural network including the medial orbitofrontal cortex, putamen, pallidum, and ventral tegmental area—brain regions previously associated with positive affect and affiliation. Taken together, these findings suggest that the deliberate cultivation of compassion offers a new coping strategy that fosters positive affect even when confronted with the distress of others.
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OBJECTIVES: To examine whether mindfulness meditation (MM) was associated with changes in objectively measured polysomnographic (PSG) sleep profiles and to relate changes in PSG sleep to subjectively reported changes in sleep and depression within the context of a randomized controlled trial. Previous studies have indicated that mindfulness and other forms of meditation training are associated with improvements in sleep quality. However, none of these studies used objective PSG sleep recordings within longitudinal randomized controlled trials of naïve subjects. METHODS: Twenty-six individuals with partially remitted depression were randomized into an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course or a waitlist control condition. Pre-post measurements included PSG sleep studies and subjectively reported sleep and depression symptoms. RESULTS: According to PSG sleep, MM practice was associated with several indices of increased cortical arousal, including more awakenings and stage 1 sleep and less slow-wave sleep relative to controls, in proportion to amount of MM practice. According to sleep diaries, subjectively reported sleep improved post MBCT but not above and beyond controls. Beck Depression Inventory scores decreased more in the MBCT group than controls. Improvements in depression were associated with increased subjective sleep continuity and increased PSG arousal. CONCLUSIONS: MM is associated with increases in objectively measured arousal during sleep with simultaneous improvements in subjectively reported sleep quality and mood disturbance. This pattern is similar to the profiles of positive responders to common antidepressant medications.
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