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Considerable research has disclosed how cognitive reappraisals and the modulation of emotional responses promote successful emotion regulation. Less research has examined how the early processing of emotion-relevant stimuli may create divergent emotional response consequences. Mindfulness—a receptive, non-evaluative form of attention—is theorized to foster emotion regulation, and the present study examined whether individual differences in mindfulness would modulate neural responses associated with the early processing of affective stimuli. Focus was on the late positive potential (LPP) of the event-related brain potential to visual stimuli varying in emotional valence and arousal. This study first found, replicating past research, that high arousal images, particularly of an unpleasant type, elicited larger LPP responses. Second, the study found that more mindful individuals showed lower LPP responses to high arousal unpleasant images, even after controlling for trait attentional control. Conversely, two traits contrasting with mindfulness—neuroticism and negative affectivity—were associated with higher LPP responses to high arousal unpleasant images. Finally, mindfulness was also associated with lower LPP responses to motivationally salient pleasant images (erotica). These findings suggest that mindfulness modulates neural responses in an early phase of affective processing, and contribute to understanding how this quality of attention may promote healthy emotional functioning.
Previous studies have documented the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on executive control. What has been lacking, however, is an understanding of the mechanism underlying this effect. Some theorists have described mindfulness as embodying two facets—present moment awareness and emotional acceptance. Here, we examine how the effect of meditation practice on executive control manifests in the brain, suggesting that emotional acceptance and performance monitoring play important roles. We investigated the effect of meditation practice on executive control and measured the neural correlates of performance monitoring, specifically, the error-related negativity (ERN), a neurophysiological response that occurs within 100 ms of error commission. Meditators and controls completed a Stroop task, during which we recorded ERN amplitudes with electroencephalography. Meditators showed greater executive control (i.e. fewer errors), a higher ERN and more emotional acceptance than controls. Finally, mediation pathway models further revealed that meditation practice relates to greater executive control and that this effect can be accounted for by heightened emotional acceptance, and to a lesser extent, increased brain-based performance monitoring.