In light of a growing interest in contemplative practices such as meditation, the emerging field of contemplative science has been challenged to describe and objectively measure how these practices affect health and well-being. While “mindfulness” itself has been proposed as a measurable outcome of contemplative practices, this concept encompasses multiple components, some of which, as we review here, may be better characterized as equanimity. Equanimity can be defined as an even-minded mental state or dispositional tendency toward all experiences or objects, regardless of their origin or their affective valence (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). In this article, we propose that equanimity be used as an outcome measure in contemplative research. We first define and discuss the inter-relationship between mindfulness and equanimity from the perspectives of both classical Buddhism and modern psychology and present existing meditation techniques for cultivating equanimity. We then review psychological, physiological, and neuroimaging methods that have been used to assess equanimity either directly or indirectly. In conclusion, we propose that equanimity captures potentially the most important psychological element in the improvement of well-being, and therefore should be a focus in future research studies.
In 2 daily experience studies and a laboratory study, the authors test predictions from approach-avoidance motivational theory to understand how dating couples can maintain feelings of relationship satisfaction in their daily lives and over the course of time. Approach goals were associated with increased relationship satisfaction on a daily basis and over time, particularly when both partners were high in approach goals. Avoidance goals were associated with decreases in relationship satisfaction over time, and people were particularly dissatisfied when they were involved with a partner with high avoidance goals. People high in approach goals and their partners were rated as relatively more satisfied and responsive to a partner's needs by outside observers in the lab, whereas people with high avoidance goals and their partners were rated as less satisfied and responsive. Positive emotions mediated the link between approach goals and daily satisfaction in both studies, and responsiveness to the partner's needs was an additional behavioral mechanism in Study 2. Implications of these findings for approach-avoidance motivational theory and for the maintenance of satisfying relationships over time are discussed.
Summary This paper reviews the philosophical origins, current scientific evidence, and clinical promise of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction. Historically, there are eight elements of yoga that, together, comprise ethical principles and practices for living a meaningful, purposeful, moral and self-disciplined life. Traditional yoga practices, including postures and meditation, direct attention toward one's health, while acknowledging the spiritual aspects of one's nature. Mindfulness derives from ancient Buddhist philosophy, and mindfulness meditation practices, such as gentle Hatha yoga and mindful breathing, are increasingly integrated into secular health care settings. Current theoretical models suggest that the skills, insights, and self-awareness learned through yoga and mindfulness practice can target multiple psychological, neural, physiological, and behavioral processes implicated in addiction and relapse. A small but growing number of well-designed clinical trials and experimental laboratory studies on smoking, alcohol dependence, and illicit substance use support the clinical effectiveness and hypothesized mechanisms of action underlying mindfulness-based interventions for treating addiction. Because very few studies have been conducted on the specific role of yoga in treating or preventing addiction, we propose a conceptual model to inform future studies on outcomes and possible mechanisms. Additional research is also needed to better understand what types of yoga and mindfulness-based interventions work best for what types of addiction, what types of patients, and under what conditions. Overall, current findings increasingly support yoga and mindfulness as promising complementary therapies for treating and preventing addictive behaviors.
<p>Empathy—the ability to share the feelings of others—is fundamental to our emotional and social lives. Previous human imaging studies focusing on empathy for others' pain have consistently shown activations in regions also involved in the direct pain experience, particularly anterior insula and anterior and midcingulate cortex. These findings suggest that empathy is, in part, based on shared representations for firsthand and vicarious experiences of affective states. Empathic responses are not static but can be modulated by person characteristics, such as degree of alexithymia. It has also been shown that contextual appraisal, including perceived fairness or group membership of others, may modulate empathic neuronal activations. Empathy often involves coactivations in further networks associated with social cognition, depending on the specific situation and information available in the environment. Empathy-related insular and cingulate activity may reflect domain-general computations representing and predicting feeling states in self and others, likely guiding adaptive homeostatic responses and goal-directed behavior in dynamic social contexts.</p>
This article reviews the modern literature on two key aspects of the central circuitry of emotion - the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the amygdala. There are several different functional divisions of the PFC including the dorsolateral, ventromedial and orbitofrontal sectors. Each of these regions plays some role in affective processing that shares the feature of representing affect in the absence of immediate rewards and punishments as well as in different aspects of emotional regulation. The amygdala appears to be crucial for the learning of new stimulus-threat contingencies and also appears to be important in the expression of cue-specific fear. Individual differences in both tonic activation and phasic reactivity in this circuit play an important role in governing affective style. Emphasis is placed upon affective chronometry, or the time course of emotional responding, as a key attribute of emotion that varies across individuals and is regulated by this circuitry.
Asthma, like many inflammatory disorders, is affected by psychological stress, suggesting that reciprocal modulation may occur between peripheral factors regulating inflammation and central neural circuitry underlying emotion and stress reactivity. Despite suggestions that emotional factors may modulate processes of inflammation in asthma and, conversely, that peripheral inflammatory signals influence the brain, the neural circuitry involved remains elusive. Here we show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula to asthma-relevant emotional, compared with valence-neutral stimuli, is associated with markers of inflammation and airway obstruction in asthmatic subjects exposed to antigen. This activation accounts for > or =40% of the variance in the peripheral markers and suggests a neural basis for emotion-induced modulation of airway disease in asthma. The anterior cingulate cortex and insula have been implicated in the affective evaluation of sensory stimulation, regulation of homeostatic responses, and visceral perception. In individuals with asthma and other stress-related conditions, these brain regions may be hyperresponsive to disease-specific emotional and afferent physiological signals, which may contribute to the dysregulation of peripheral processes, such as inflammation.
Objective: Mindfulness is a process whereby one is aware and receptive to present moment experiences. Although mindfulness-enhancing interventions reduce pathological mental and physical health symptoms across a wide variety of conditions and diseases, the mechanisms underlying these effects remain unknown. Converging evidence from the mindfulness and neuroscience literature suggests that labeling affect may be one mechanism for these effects. Methods: Participants (n = 27) indicated trait levels of mindfulness and then completed an affect labeling task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. The labeling task consisted of matching facial expressions to appropriate affect words (affect labeling) or to gender-appropriate names (gender labeling control task). Results: After controlling for multiple individual difference measures, dispositional mindfulness was associated with greater widespread prefrontal cortical activation, and reduced bilateral amygdala activity during affect labeling, compared with the gender labeling control task. Further, strong negative associations were found between areas of prefrontal cortex and right amygdala responses in participants high in mindfulness but not in participants low in mindfulness. Conclusions: The present findings with a dispositional measure of mindfulness suggest one potential neurocognitive mechanism for understanding how mindfulness meditation interventions reduce negative affect and improve health outcomes, showing that mindfulness is associated with enhanced prefrontal cortical regulation of affect through labeling of negative affective stimuli.
Research on the “emotional brain” remains centered around the idea that emotions like fear, happiness, and sadness result from specialized and distinct neural circuitry. Accumulating behavioral and physiological evidence suggests, instead, that emotions are grounded in core affect—a person’s fluctuating level of pleasant or unpleasant arousal. A neuroimaging study revealed that participants’ subjective ratings of valence (i.e., pleasure/displeasure) and of arousal evoked by various fear, happiness, and sadness experiences correlated with neural activity in specific brain regions (orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala, respectively). We observed these correlations across diverse instances within each emotion category, as well as across instances from all three categories. Consistent with a psychological construction approach to emotion, the results suggest that neural circuitry realizes more basic processes across discrete emotions. The implicated brain regions regulate the body to deal with the world, producing the affective changes at the core of emotions and many other psychological phenomena.
'Mindfulness' is a capacity for heightened present-moment awareness that we all possess to a greater or lesser extent. Enhancing this capacity through training has been shown to alleviate stress and promote physical and mental well-being. As a consequence, interest in mindfulness is growing and so is the need to better understand it. This study employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify the brain regions involved in state mindfulness and to shed light on its mechanisms of action. Significant signal decreases were observed during mindfulness meditation in midline cortical structures associated with interoception, including bilateral anterior insula, left ventral anterior cingulate cortex, right medial prefrontal cortex, and bilateral precuneus. Significant signal increase was noted in the right posterior cingulate cortex. These findings lend support to the theory that mindfulness achieves its positive outcomes through a process of disidentification.
OBJECTIVE: Positron emission tomography was used to investigate the neural substrates of normal human emotional and their dependence on the types of emotional stimulus. METHOD: Twelve healthy female subjects underwent 12 measurements of regional brain activity following the intravenous bolus administration of [15O]H2O as they alternated between emotion-generating and control film and recall tasks. Automated image analysis techniques were used to characterize and compare the increases in regional brain activity associated with the emotional response to complex visual (film) and cognitive (recall) stimuli. RESULTS: Film- and recall-generated emotion were each associated with significantly increased activity in the vicinity of the medial prefrontal cortex and thalamus, suggesting that these regions participate in aspects of emotion that do not depend on the nature of the emotional stimulus. Film-generated emotion was associated with significantly greater increases in activity bilaterally in the occipitotemporparietal cortex, lateral cerebellum, hypothalamus, and a region that includes the anterior temporal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampal formation, suggesting that these regions participate in the emotional response to certain exteroceptive sensory stimuli. Recall-generated sadness was associated with significantly greater increases in activity in the vicinity of the anterior insular cortex, suggesting that this region participates in the emotional response to potentially distressing cognitive or interoceptive sensory stimuli. CONCLUSIONS: While this study should be considered preliminary, it identified brain regions that participate in externally and internally generated human emotion.
OBJECTIVE: Happiness, sadness, and disgust are three emotions that differ in their valence (positive or negative) and associated action tendencies (approach or withdrawal). This study was designed to investigate the neuroanatomical correlates of these discrete emotions. METHOD: Twelve healthy female subjects were studied. Positron emission tomography and [15O]H2O were used to measure regional brain activity. There were 12 conditions per subject: happiness, sadness, and disgust and three control conditions, each induced by film and recall. Emotion and control tasks were alternated throughout. Condition order was pseudo-randomized and counterbalanced across subjects. Analyses focused on brain activity patterns for each emotion when combining film and recall data. RESULTS: Happiness, sadness, and disgust were each associated with increases in activity in the thalamus and medial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's area 9). These three emotions were also associated with activation of anterior and posterior temporal structures, primarily when induced by film. Recalled sadness was associated with increased activation in the anterior insula. Happiness was distinguished from sadness by greater activity in the vicinity of ventral mesial frontal cortex. CONCLUSIONS: While this study should be considered preliminary, it identifies regions of the brain that participate in happiness, sadness, and disgust, regions that distinguish between positive and negative emotions, and regions that depend on both the elicitor and valence of emotion or their interaction.
Substantial evidence suggests that a key distinction in the classification of human emotion is that between an appetitive motivational system association with positive or pleasant emotion and an aversive motivational system associated with negative or unpleasant emotion. To explore the neural substrates of these two systems, 12 healthy women viewed sets of pictures previously demonstrated to elicit pleasant, unpleasant and neutral emotion, while positron emission tomographic (PET) measurements of regional cerebral blood flow were obtained. Pleasant and unpleasant emotions were each distinguished from neutral emotion conditions by significantly increased cerebral blood flow in the vicinity of the medial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's area 9), thalamus, hypothalamus and midbrain (P < 0.005). Unpleasant was distinguished from neutral or pleasant emotion by activation of the bilateral occipito-temporal cortex and cerebellum, and left parahippocampal gyrus, hippocampus and amygdala (P < 0.005). Pleasant was also distinguished from neutral but not unpleasant emotion by activation of the head of the left caudate nucleus (P < 0.005). These findings are consistent with those from other recent PET studies of human emotion and demonstrate that there are both common and unique components of the neural networks mediating pleasant and unpleasant emotion in healthy women.
<p>Social neuro-science has recently started to investigate the neuronal mechanisms underlying our ability to understand the mental and emotional states of others. In this review, imaging research conducted on theory of mind (ToM or mentalizing) and empathy is selectively reviewed. It is proposed that even though these abilities are often used as synonyms in the literature these capacities represent different abilities that rely on different neuronal circuitry. ToM refers to our ability to understand mental states such as intentions, goals and beliefs, and relies on structures of the temporal lobe and the pre-frontal cortex. In contrast, empathy refers to our ability to share the feelings (emotions and sensations) of others and relies on sensorimotor cortices as well as limbic and para-limbic structures. It is further argued that the concept of empathy as used in lay terms refers to a multi-level construct extending from simple forms of emotion contagion to complex forms of cognitive perspective taking. Future research should investigate the relative contribution of empathizing and mentalizing abilities in the understanding of other people's states. Finally, it is suggested that the abilities to understand other people's thoughts and to share their affects display different ontogenetic trajectories reflecting the different developmental paths of their underlying neural structures. In particular, empathy develops much earlier than mentalizing abilities, because the former relys on limbic structures which develop early in ontogeny, whereas the latter rely on lateral temporal lobe and pre-frontal structures which are among the last to fully mature.</p>
In this article, the authors elaborate on 3 ideas advanced in P. Rozin and A. B. Cohen's (2003) innovative study of facial expression. Taking a cue from their discovery of new expressive behaviors (e.g., the narrowed eyebrows), the authors review recent studies showing that emotions are conveyed in more channels than usually studied, including posture, gaze patterns, voice, and touch. Building on their claim that confusion has a distinct display, the authors review evidence showing distinct displays for 3 self-conscious emotions (embarrassment, shame, and pride), 5 positive emotions (amusement, desire, happiness, love, interest), and sympathy and compassion. Finally, the authors offer a functional definition of emotion to integrate these findings on "new" displays and emotions.
Emotions can color people’s attitudes toward unrelated objects in the environment. Existing evidence suggests that such emotional coloring is particularly strong when emotion-triggering information escapes conscious awareness. But is emotional reactivity stronger after nonconscious emotional provocation than after conscious emotional provocation, or does conscious processing specifically change the association between emotional reactivity and evaluations of unrelated objects? In this study, we independently indexed emotional reactivity and coloring as a function of emotional-stimulus awareness to disentangle these accounts. Specifically, we recorded skin-conductance responses to spiders and fearful faces, along with subsequent preferences for novel neutral faces during visually aware and unaware states. Fearful faces increased skin-conductance responses comparably in both stimulus-aware and stimulus-unaware conditions. Yet only when visual awareness was precluded did skin-conductance responses to fearful faces predict decreased likability of neutral faces. These findings suggest a regulatory role for conscious awareness in breaking otherwise automatic associations between physiological reactivity and evaluative emotional responses.
Concepts originating from ancient Eastern texts are now being explored scientifically, leading to new insights into mind/brain function. Meditative practice, often viewed as an emotion regulation strategy, has been associated with pain reduction, low pain sensitivity, chronic pain improvement, and thickness of pain-related cortices. Zen meditation is unlike previously studied emotion regulation techniques; more akin to ‘no appraisal’ than ‘reappraisal’. This implies the cognitive evaluation of pain may be involved in the pain-related effects observed in meditators. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a thermal pain paradigm we show that practitioners of Zen, compared to controls, reduce activity in executive, evaluative and emotion areas during pain (prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus). Meditators with the most experience showed the largest activation reductions. Simultaneously, meditators more robustly activated primary pain processing regions (anterior cingulate cortex, thalamus, insula). Importantly, the lower pain sensitivity in meditators was strongly predicted by reductions in functional connectivity between executive and pain-related cortices. Results suggest a functional decoupling of the cognitive-evaluative and sensory-discriminative dimensions of pain, possibly allowing practitioners to view painful stimuli more neutrally. The activation pattern is remarkably consistent with the mindset described in Zen and the notion of mindfulness. Our findings contrast and challenge current concepts of pain and emotion regulation and cognitive control; commonly thought to manifest through increased activation of frontal executive areas. We suggest it is possible to self-regulate in a more ‘passive’ manner, by reducing higher-order evaluative processes, as demonstrated here by the disengagement of anterior brain systems in meditators.
Past studies have documented interpersonal benefits of natural environments. Across four studies, we tested the hypothesis that exposure to more beautiful nature, relative to less beautiful nature, increases prosocial behavior. Study 1 yielded correlational evidence indicating that participants prone to perceiving natural beauty reported greater prosocial tendencies, as measured by agreeableness, perspective taking, and empathy. In Studies 2 and 3, exposure to more beautiful images of nature (versus less beautiful images of nature) led participants to be more generous and trusting. In Study 4, exposure to more beautiful (versus less beautiful) plants in the laboratory room led participants to exhibit increased helping behavior. Across studies, we provide evidence that positive emotions and tendencies to perceive natural beauty mediate and moderate the association between beauty and prosociality. The current studies extend past research by demonstrating the unique prosocial benefits of beautiful nature.
Oxytocin, a peptide that functions as both a hormone and neurotransmitter, has broad influences on social and emotional processing throughout the body and the brain. In this study, we tested how a polymorphism (rs53576) of the oxytocin receptor relates to two key social processes related to oxytocin: empathy and stress reactivity. Compared with individuals homozygous for the G allele of rs53576 (GG), individuals with one or two copies of the A allele (AG/AA) exhibited lower behavioral and dispositional empathy, as measured by the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” Test and an other-oriented empathy scale. Furthermore, AA/AG individuals displayed higher physiological and dispositional stress reactivity than GG individuals, as determined by heart rate response during a startle anticipation task and an affective reactivity scale. Our results provide evidence of how a naturally occurring genetic variation of the oxytocin receptor relates to both empathy and stress profiles.
<p>Reviews selective behavioral, psychophysiological, and neuropsychological research bearing on how affective space should be parsed. Neither facial expression nor autonomic nervous system activity is found to provide unique markers for particular discrete emotions. The dimensions of approach and withdrawal are introduced as fundamental systems relevant to differentiating affective space. The role of frontal and anterior temporal asymmetries in mediating approach- and withdrawal-related emotion is considered. Individual differences in tonic anterior activation asymmetry are present and are relatively stable over time. Such differences are associated with an individual's propensity to display different types of emotion, mood, and psychopathology. The conceptual and methodological implications of this perspective are considered.</p>
This review provides an overview of the field of social neuroscience from a European perspective and focuses mainly on outlining research topics which originated in European laboratories. After a brief historical synopsis of the emergence of this young field, the most relevant findings related to the investigation of the neural networks underlying our capacity to understand the minds of others are summarized. More specifically, three routes of social cognition are distinguished: (1) our capacity to mentalize, or to infer intentions and beliefs of others, (2) our capacity to mimic and understand other's motor actions, and (3) our capacity to empathize, or to share and understand the feelings of others. More recent studies focusing on social emotions such as love, compassion, revenge or our sense of fairness will be discussed linking the field of social neuroscience to the even younger field of neuroeconomics, with the focus on the study of human social interactions using game theoretical paradigms. Finally, the use of a multi-method and multi-disciplinary research approach combining genetic, pharmacological, computational and developmental aspects is advocated and future directions for the study of interactive minds are discussed.
The purpose of the present study was twofold: (1) to obtain information on central mechanisms underlying cardiac self-regulation by comparing changes in cerebral asymmetry during self-control of heart rate with changes observed during the production of affective imagery; and (2) to explore sex differences in hemispheric function during performance of these two tasks. Heart rate (HR) and bilateral parietal EEG filtered for alpha were recorded from 20 right-handed males and females during two discrete experimental phases: cardiac control and image self-generation. HR showed significant effects between up versus down in prefeedback and feedback, and between anger versus relaxing imagery in the image phase. The EEG data indicated similar patterns of hemispheric asymmetry in both sexes during prefeedback. However, with the introduction of feedback, females shifted to greater relative right hemisphere activation comparable to what they show when specifically instructed to think emotional thoughts; males showed little differentiation between conditions. These data indicate that the Self-regulation of HR with biofeedback in males and females may be accomplished by the utilization of strategies involving different underlying patterns of neuropsychological processes.
Responses to individuals who suffer are a foundation of cooperative communities. On the basis of the approach/inhibition theory of power (Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003), we hypothesized that elevated social power is associated with diminished reciprocal emotional responses to another person's suffering (feeling distress at another person's distress) and with diminished complementary emotion (e.g., compassion). In face-to-face conversations, participants disclosed experiences that had caused them suffering. As predicted, participants with a higher sense of power experienced less distress and less compassion and exhibited greater autonomic emotion regulation when confronted with another participant's suffering. Additional analyses revealed that these findings could not be attributed to power-related differences in baseline emotion or decoding accuracy, but were likely shaped by power-related differences in the motivation to affiliate. Implications for theorizing about power and the social functions of emotions are discussed.
The present studies examined how observers infer moral attributes and beliefs from nonverbal pride displays. Pride is a self-focused positive emotion triggered by appraisals of the self's success, status, and competence. We hypothesized that when a target emits nonverbal cues of pride, he or she will be viewed by observers as higher in self-interest and therefore more likely to endorse ideologies that would benefit the self-specifically, merit-based resource distributions (meritocracy) as opposed to equality-based resource distributions (egalitarianism). Across studies, experimentally manipulated pride displays (Studies 1 and 3) and naturally occurring expressions of pride (Study 4) led observers to infer heightened support for meritocracy as opposed to egalitarianism. Analyses also revealed that people intuitively associate higher self-interest with enhanced support for meritocracy as opposed to egalitarianism (Study 2), and this association mediates the pathway from pride displays to inferences of heightened support for meritocracy and reduced support for egalitarianism (Studies 3 and 4). Across studies, we compare pride to expressions of joy or no emotion and demonstrate these effects using thin slices as well as static images.