Improve Brain Processing of Negative Emotions with Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“meditation physically impacts the extraordinarily complex organ between our ears. . . . meditation nurtures the parts of the brain that contribute to well-being. Furthermore, it seems that a regular practice deprives the stress and anxiety-related parts of the brain of their nourishment.” – Mindworks
Mindfulness training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, mindfulness training has been called the third wave of therapies. Mindfulness training produces changes in the brain’s electrical activity. This can be measured by recording the electroencephalogram (EEG). The brain produces rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp.
There is evidence that mindfulness training improves emotion regulation by altering the brain. A common method to study the activity of the nervous system is to measure the electrical signal at the scalp above brain regions. Changes in this activity are measurable with mindfulness training. One method to observe emotional processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to specific emotional stimuli. These are called event-related potentials or ERPs. The signal following a stimulus changes over time.
The fluctuations of the signal after specific periods of time are thought to measure different aspects of the nervous system’s processing of the stimulus. The P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 1.5 to 5.0 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P300 component is thought to reflect inhibitory processes. The P600 response in the ERP is a positive going response occurring between a 6.0 to 10 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P600 component is thought to be a language relevant response particularly to linguistic errors.
In today’s Research News article “The Effect of Meditation on Comprehension of Statements About One-Self and Others: A Pilot ERP and Behavioral Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6962228/), Savostyanov and colleagues recruited healthy right handed adults and separated them according to their meditation experience into non-meditators, 3-5 years of experience, and greater than 10 years of experience. While the electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded the participants were presented with sentences on a computer screen. Half of the sentences contained blatant grammatical errors. The participants were asked to press a button if the sentence contained a grammatical error. There were 5 kinds of sentences that suggested 1) aggression of participant, 2) aggression of other people, 3) anxiety of participant, 4) anxiety of other people, and 5) neutral.
They found that it took significantly longer to detect correct sentences but with significantly greater accuracy than those with grammatical errors. Sentences about self were solved significantly faster and with greater accuracy than sentences about others. Sentences about anxiety were solved significantly faster than sentences about aggression. Meditators responded significantly faster than non-meditators. Sentences about anxiety and aggression were solved significantly faster by meditators than non-meditators. Non-meditators were significantly more accurate with sentences about self than sentences about others while there was no difference for meditators. In the evoked potentials (ERP), the P300 response was larger for long-term meditators than for moderate-term meditators which were significantly larger than for non-meditators.
These results are complex, but reflect an influence of meditation practice on the ability to respond to emotionally charged sentences. In particular, the results show that meditators are better at dealing with negative emotions than non-meditators. The larger P300 response in the meditators may reflect a greater ability in meditators to inhibit responses to negative emotions allowing them to respond faster when these emotions are present. These results are in line with previous findings that meditation training improves emotion regulation.
So, improve brain processing of negative emotions with meditation.
“It seems the longer you do meditation, the better your brain will be at self-regulation. You don’t have to consume as much energy at rest and you can more easily get yourself into a more relaxed state.” – Bin He
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Savostyanov, A., Tamozhnikov, S., Bocharov, A., Saprygin, A., Matushkin, Y., Lashin, S., Kolpakova, G., Sudobin, K., & Knyazev, G. (2020). The Effect of Meditation on Comprehension of Statements About One-Self and Others: A Pilot ERP and Behavioral Study. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 437. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00437
The main goal of this study was to examine the effect of long-term meditation practice on behavioral indicators and ERP peak characteristics during an error-recognition task, where participants were presented with emotionally negative (evoking anxiety or aggression) written sentences describing self-related or non-self-related emotional state and personality traits. In total, 200 sentences written in Russian with varying emotional coloring were presented during the task, with half of the sentences containing a grammatical error that the participants were asked to identify. The EEG was recorded in age-matched control individuals (n = 17) and two groups of Samatha meditators with relatively short- (3–5 years’ experience, n = 18) and long-term (10–30 years’ experience, n = 18) practice experience. Task performance time (TPT) and accuracy of error detection (AED) were chosen as behavioral values. Amplitude, time latency and cortical distribution of P300 and P600 peaks of ERP were used as a value of speech-related brain activity. All statistical effects of meditation were estimated, controlling for age and sex. No behavioral differences between two groups of meditators were found. General TPT was shorter for both groups of meditators compared to the control group. Non-meditators reacted significantly slower to sentences about aggression than to sentences about anxiety or non-emotional sentences, whereas no significance was found between meditator groups. Non-meditators had better AED for the sentences about one-self than for the sentences about other people, whereas the meditators did not show any significant difference. The amplitude of P300 peak in frontal and left temporal scalp regions was higher for long-term meditators in comparison with both intermediate and control groups. The latency of P300 and P600 in left frontal and temporal regions positively correlated with TPT, whereas the amplitude of P300 in these regions had a negative correlation with TPT. We demonstrate that long-term meditation practice increases the ability of an individual to process negative emotional stimuli. The differences in behavioral reactions after onset of negative information that was self-related and non-self-related, which is typical for non-meditators, disappeared due to the influence of meditation. ERP results could be interpreted as a value of increase in voluntary control over emotional state during meditational practice.