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It has long been theorised that there are two temporally distinct forms of self-reference: extended self-reference linking experiences across time, and momentary self-reference centred on the present. To characterise these two aspects of awareness, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine monitoring of enduring traits (’narrative’ focus, NF) or momentary experience (’experiential’ focus, EF) in both novice participants and those having attended an 8 week course in mindfulness meditation, a program that trains individuals to develop focused attention on the present. In novices, EF yielded focal reductions in self-referential cortical midline regions (medial prefrontal cortex, mPFC) associated with NF. In trained participants, EF resulted in more marked and pervasive reductions in the mPFC, and increased engagement of a right lateralised network, comprising the lateral PFC and viscerosomatic areas such as the insula, secondary somatosensory cortex and inferior parietal lobule. Functional connectivity analyses further demonstrated a strong coupling between the right insula and the mPFC in novices that was uncoupled in the mindfulness group. These results suggest a fundamental neural dissociation between two distinct forms of self-awareness that are habitually integrated but can be dissociated through attentional training: the self across time and in the present moment.

Mindfulness involves nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experience. In its therapeutic forms, mindfulness interventions promote increased tolerance of negative affect and improved well being. However, the neural mechanisms underlying mindful mood regulation are poorly understood. Mindfulness training appears to enhance attentional monitoring systems in the brain, supported by the anterior cingulate and lateral prefrontal cortices. In emotion regulation, this prefrontal training seems to promote the stable recruitment of a non-conceptual sensory pathway, an alternative to conventional cognitive reappraisal strategies. In neural terms, the transition to non-conceptual awareness involves reducing habitual evaluative processing supported by midline structures of the prefrontal cortex. Instead, attentional resources are directed towards a limbic pathway for present-moment sensory awareness, involving the thalamus, insula, and primary sensory regions. In patients with affective disorders, mindfulness training acts as an alternative to cognitive efforts to control emotion, instead directing attention towards broadly monitoring fluctuations in momentary experience. Limiting cognitive elaboration in favor of momentary awareness appears to reduce automatic negative self-evaluation, increase tolerance for negative affect and pain, and help to engender self-compassion and empathy in chronically dysphoric individuals.

This study was designed to test the hypothesis that mindfulness involves sustained attention, attention switching, inhibition of elaborative processing and non-directed attention. Healthy adults were tested before and after random assignment to an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course (n = 39) or a wait-list control (n = 33). Testing included measures of sustained attention, attention switching, Stroop interference (as a measure of inhibition of elaborative processing), detection of objects in consistent or inconsistent scenes (as a measure of non-directed attention), as well as self-report measures of emotional well-being and mindfulness. Participation in the MBSR course was associated with significantly greater improvements in emotional well-being and mindfulness, but no improvements in attentional control relative to the control group. However, improvements in mindfulness after MBSR were correlated with improvements in object detection. We discuss the implications of these results as they relate to the role of attention in mindfulness. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

This study evaluated mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a group intervention designed to train recovered recurrently depressed patients to disengage from dysphoria-activated depressogenic thinking that may mediate relapse/recurrence. Recovered recurrently depressed patients ( n = 145) were randomized to continue with treatment as usual or, in addition, to receive MBCT. Relapse/recurrence to major depression was assessed over a 60-week study period. For patients with 3 or more previous episodes of depression (77% of the sample), MBCT significantly reduced risk of relapse/recurrence. For patients with only 2 previous episodes, MBCT did not reduce relapse/recurrence. MBCT offers a promising cost-efficient psychological approach to preventing relapse/recurrence in recovered recurrently depressed patients.

In this study, the authors both developed and validated a self-report mindfulness measure, the Toronto Mindfulness Scale (TMS). In Study 1, participants were individuals with and without meditation experience. Results showed good internal consistency and two factors, Curiosity and Decentering. Most of the expected relationships with other constructs were as expected. The TMS scores increased with increasing mindfulness meditation experience. In Study 2. criterion and incremental validity of the TMS were investigated on a group of individuals participating in 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction programs. Results showed that TMS scores increased following treatment, and Decentering scores predicted improvements in clinical outcome. Thus, the TMS is a promising measure of the mindfulness state with good psychometric properties and predictive of treatment outcome. Keywords: Toronto Mindfulness Scale; self-report assessment: mindfulness; meditation; psychometric characteristics
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