Improve Response Inhibition to Quit Smoking with Mindfulness

Improve Response Inhibition to Quit Smoking with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

mindfulness home practice significantly predicted reduced smoking behavior, even after controlling for initial craving and cigarette use. In fact, every day the participants meditated meant 1.2 fewer cigarettes, and every day they were mindful with their cravings and in everyday activities meant 1.52 fewer cigarettes.” – Mayo Clinic

 

“Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). So, treating nicotine addiction and producing smoking cessation could greatly improve health. But smoking has proved devilishly difficult to treat. There are a wide variety of methods and strategies to quit smoking which are to only a very limited extent effective. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 40% of smokers who want to quit make a serious attempt to do so each year, but fewer than 5% actually succeed. Most people require three or four failed attempts before being successful.

 

One problem is that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known and withdrawal from nicotine is very stressful, producing many physical and psychological problems, including negative emotional states and depression. In essence, the addict feels miserable without the nicotine. This promotes relapse to relieve the discomfort. Better methods to quit which can not only promote quitting but also prevent relapse are badly needed. Mindfulness practices have been found to be helpful in treating addictions, including nicotine addiction, and reducing the risk of relapse. In order to quit smoking, the addict must learn to withhold responding to smoking related cues. That is the smoker must be better able to inhibit the smoking response.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of a brief mindfulness-meditation intervention on neural measures of response inhibition in cigarette smokers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5784955/ ), Andreu and colleagues explore a possible mechanism by which mindfulness may affect smoking cessation; improved response inhibition. This is the ability to stop or withhold a behavior that may be highly motivated. Obviously, smoking is strongly motivated and a behavior that is very hard to stop or withhold.

 

They recruited adult smokers and exposed them to a cigarette and either provided them with a recorded mindfulness instruction or were told to cope with their urge to smoke in any way they could. They then had the Electroencephalogram (EEG) recorded while performing a smoking go/no-go task in which they pushed a button each time a picture was presented with a particularly colored frame on a computer screen and did not press the button when the picture had a different colored frame. The pictures were either smoking related or neutral. The go-no-go task is a standard test for response inhibition.

 

They found that there were no significant differences between the error rates or response speeds between the mindfulness or no instruction groups on the go/no-go task. But there were differences in the EEG. During the task the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to the pictures was recorded. These event-related potentials or ERPs are the fluctuations of the signal after specific periods of time which are thought to measure different aspects of the nervous system’s processing of the stimulus. The P3 response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 3 to 5 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. These responses were significantly larger with the smoking related than neutral pictures. Importantly, the mindfulness instruction group had significantly smaller P3 responses on the no-go trials than the no-instruction group.

 

The P3 component is thought to reflect response inhibition. The lower P3 response after mindfulness instruction suggests that mindfulness reduces the effort needed to withhold a response when needed (no-go trials). By paying closer attention in the present moment, detection of the no-go stimulus may be enhanced making it easier to withhold responding. Hence, the results suggest that mindfulness improves response inhibition in smokers. This may be, in part, the mechanism by which mindfulness training improves smoking cessation and reduces relapse. It makes it easier to not respond to smoking related situation with smoking.

 

So, improve response inhibition to quit smoking with mindfulness.

 

mindfulness training may actually target the addictive loop, breaking the relationship between craving and smoking and resulting in greater smoking cessation.” – Lori Pbert

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Andreu, C. I., Cosmelli, D., Slagter, H. A., & Franken, I. (2018). Effects of a brief mindfulness-meditation intervention on neural measures of response inhibition in cigarette smokers. PloS one, 13(1), e0191661. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0191661

 

Abstract

Research suggests that mindfulness-practices may aid smoking cessation. Yet, the neural mechanisms underlying the effects of mindfulness-practices on smoking are unclear. Response inhibition is a main deficit in addiction, is associated with relapse, and could therefore be a candidate target for mindfulness-based practices. The current study hence investigated the effects of a brief mindfulness-practice on response inhibition in smokers using behavioral and electroencephalography (EEG) measures. Fifty participants (33 females, mean age 20 years old) underwent a protocol of cigarette exposure to induce craving (cue-exposure) and were then randomly assigned to a group receiving mindfulness-instructions or control-instructions (for 15 minutes approximately). Immediately after this, they performed a smoking Go/NoGo task, while their brain activity was recorded. At the behavioral level, no group differences were observed. However, EEG analyses revealed a decrease in P3 amplitude during NoGo vs. Go trials in the mindfulness versus control group. The lower P3 amplitude might indicate less-effortful response inhibition after the mindfulness-practice, and suggest that enhanced response inhibition underlies observed positive effects of mindfulness on smoking behavior.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5784955/

 

Improve Emotional Responding in Adolescents with School-Based Mindfulness Training

Improve Emotional Responding in Adolescents with School-Based Mindfulness Training

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mindfulness has many benefits for students, including better sleep, increased focus, reduced stress and reduced challenges related to depression and anxiety,” – Patricia Lester

 

Adolescence should be a time of mental, physical, social, and emotional growth. It is during this time that higher levels of thinking, sometimes called executive function, develops. But, adolescence can be a difficult time, fraught with challenges. During this time the child transitions to young adulthood; including the development of intellectual, psychological, physical, and social abilities and characteristics. There are so many changes occurring during this time that the child can feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with all that is required. Mindfulness training has been shown to improve emotion regulation and to benefit the psychological and emotional health of adolescents.

 

Most measures of emotional responding are self-report subjective measures. The electrical responses of the brain, however, can be used to objectively measure emotional responding and attention. Evoked potentials are brain electrical responses to specific stimuli. The P3b response in the evoked potential is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 4.2 to 5.2 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P3b response is thought to measure attention to emotional stimuli.

 

In today’s Research News article “Effects of school‐based mindfulness training on emotion processing and well‐being in adolescents: evidence from event‐related potentials.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6175003/ ), Sanger and colleagues obtained the cooperation of 4 secondary schools and recruited 16-18 year old students from each. The adolescent students from two schools received mindfulness training while the adolescent students from the other two schools were assigned to a wait list. Mindfulness training occurred in 8, 50-minute sessions over a month in the regular school day. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness, stress, depression, empathy, health and acceptability of the program.

 

In addition, the students’ Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded while their attention was examined with an emotional oddball task. They watched a screen where the same two faces with neutral expressions were presented repeatedly, 80% of the time. Different happy or sad faces (oddball) were presented 20% of the time. The students were asked to press a space bar every time a happy or sad face appeared. The change in the EEG evoked by the faces was recorded as well as the speed and accuracy of the students’ responses. In particular the P3b evoked response was targeted. It consists of a positive going change in the evoked potential occurring 420-520 milliseconds after the stimulus. It is associated with attention to emotional stimuli.

 

They found that the size of the P3b evoked response to both the happy and the sad faces decreased over time in the control group suggesting a loss of responsivity to emotional stimuli (habituation) in the non-trained students. On the other hand, the size of the response did not decrease in the trained students, suggesting a lack of habituation, a maintained responsiveness to emotional stimuli. In addition, they found that the mindfulness trained group had fewer visits to the doctor for psychological reasons and increased overall well-being.

 

These are interesting results that suggest that mindfulness training help to maintain the adolescents’ attention to emotionally relevant stimuli. This may be helpful in maintaining socially appropriate responses to other peoples’ emotional expressions which would tend to improve social ability. This could be of great benefit during the awkward times of adolescence. In addition, the training appears to reduce psychological issues and improve the students’ well-being.

 

So, improve emotional responding in adolescents with school-based mindfulness training.

 

“Introducing mindfulness-based programs in schools and in everyday practice can have a life-long impact on the psychological, social, and cognitive well-being of children and teens. So go out and help your child to practice and enjoy simple mindfulness exercises when they are young.” – Courtney Ackerman

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Sanger, K. L., Thierry, G., & Dorjee, D. (2018). Effects of school‐based mindfulness training on emotion processing and well‐being in adolescents: evidence from event‐related potentials. Developmental Science, 21(5), e12646. http://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12646

 

Abstract

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

  • Mindfulness training was associated with maintained P3b mean amplitudes to facial target stimuli, indicating sustained sensitivity to socially relevant, affective stimuli.
  • Trained students reported higher well‐being despite mindfulness course engagement being correlated with greater stress awareness.
  • Self‐reported changes in empathy correlated significantly with changes in P3b to emotional faces across groups.

In a non‐randomized controlled study, we investigated the efficacy of a school‐based mindfulness curriculum delivered by schoolteachers to older secondary school students (16–18 years). We measured changes in emotion processing indexed by P3b event‐related potential (ERP) modulations in an affective oddball task using static human faces. ERPs were recorded to happy and sad face oddballs presented in a stimulus stream of frequent faces with neutral expression, before and after 8 weeks of mindfulness training. Whilst the mean amplitude of the P3b, an ERP component typically elicited by infrequent oddballs, decreased between testing sessions in the control group, it remained unchanged in the training group. Significant increases in self‐reported well‐being and fewer doctor visits for mental health support were also reported in the training group as compared to controls. The observed habituation to emotional stimuli in controls thus contrasted with maintained sensitivity in mindfulness‐trained students. These results suggest that in‐school mindfulness training for adolescents has scope for increasing awareness of socially relevant emotional stimuli, irrespective of valence, and thus may decrease vulnerability to depression.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6175003/

Improve Effortless Awareness Meditation with EEG Neurofeedback

Improve Effortless Awareness Meditation with EEG Neurofeedback

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Neurofeedback meditation supercharges your brain’s ability to learn and in this case it’s learning to go into profound states of meditation where an aspect of that state is rock solid focus and a quiet mind.” – Jonathan Banks

 

Meditation 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, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. But, meditation can be challenging to learn and many people become discouraged and drop the practice. But, modern neuroscience has developed a tool called neurofeedback that can assist the meditator in improving the meditative experience.

 

In today’s Research News article “Source-space EEG neurofeedback links subjective experience with brain activity during effortless awareness meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5001938/ ), Lutterveld and colleagues recruited novice and experienced (> 5 years) meditators. Novice meditators were taught to bring about a meditative state of effortless that consists of “concentration”, “observing sensory experience”, “not ‘efforting’“ and “contentment”. Experienced meditators were simply instructed to enter a state of effortless awareness. During the meditation the EEG was recorded and the activity of the brain waves in the gamma region (40-57 Hz) from the Posterior Cingulate Cortex (PCC) were recorded. The amount of activity was fed back to the participant in the form of a bar on a monitor screen the increased in size as the amount of activity increased.

 

They found that both groups reported that when they were experiencing effortless awareness the PCC Gamma activity was low. In addition, both groups were able to decrease the PCC Gamma activity when they tried. These results suggest that neurofeedback can be used to alter brain activity in targeted areas and frequency ranges. The Posterior Cingulate Cortex (PCC) is known to be a key structure in what is termed the default mode network. This network becomes active during times when the mind is wandering or in self-referential thought. So, the lowering of PCC Gamma activity with neurofeedback would suggest that the meditators are able to volitionally control mind wandering when appropriate feedback is available.

 

Since PCC Gamma activity is associated with effortless awareness these results suggest that neurofeedback can be used to train individuals to increase the amount of effortless awareness present in their meditation and decrease the amount of mind wandering. This in turn could markedly increase the quality of the meditation practice. Future research should explore the application of this neurofeedback for the improvement of meditation practice and its associated benefits.

 

So, improve effortless awareness meditation with EEG neurofeedback.

 

“If you meditate for an ulterior motive, that is to say, to improve your mind, to improve your character, to be more efficient in life, you’ve got your eye on the future and you are not meditating. Because the future, is a concept. It doesn’t exist.” – Alan Watts

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Van Lutterveld, R., Houlihan, S. D., Pal, P., Sacchet, M. D., McFarlane-Blake, C., Patel, P. R., … Brewer, J. A. (2017). Source-space EEG neurofeedback links subjective experience with brain activity during effortless awareness meditation. NeuroImage, 151, 117–127. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.02.047

 

Abstract

Background

Meditation is increasingly showing beneficial effects for psychiatric disorders. However, learning to meditate is not straightforward as there are no easily discernible outward signs of performance and thus no direct feedback is possible. As meditation has been found to correlate with posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) activity, we tested whether source-space EEG neurofeedback from the PCC followed the subjective experience of effortless awareness (a major component of meditation), and whether participants could volitionally control the signal.

Methods

Sixteen novice meditators and sixteen experienced meditators participated in the study. Novice meditators were briefly trained to perform a basic meditation practice to induce the subjective experience of effortless awareness in a progressively more challenging neurofeedback test-battery. Experienced meditators performed a self-selected meditation practice to induce this state in the same test-battery. Neurofeedback was provided based on gamma-band (40–57 Hz) PCC activity extracted using a beamformer algorithm. Associations between PCC activity and the subjective experience of effortless awareness were assessed by verbal probes.

Results

Both groups reported that decreased PCC activity corresponded with effortless awareness (P<0.0025 for each group), with high median confidence ratings (novices: 8 on a 0–10 Likert scale; experienced: 9). Both groups showed high moment-to-moment median correspondence ratings between PCC activity and subjective experience of effortless awareness (novices: 8, experienced: 9). Both groups were able to volitionally control the PCC signal in the direction associated with effortless awareness by practicing effortless awareness meditation (novices: median % of time =77.97, P=0.001; experienced: 89.83, P<0.0005).

Conclusions

These findings support the feasibility of using EEG neurofeedback to link an objective measure of brain activity with the subjective experience of effortless awareness, and suggest potential utility of this paradigm as a tool for meditation training.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5001938/

 

Improve Attention with Even Very Brief Meditation

Improve Attention with Even Very Brief Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“We practice meditation in the end not to become great meditators but to have a different life. As we deepen the skills of concentration, mindfulness, and compassion, we find we have less stress, more fulfillment, more insight, and vastly more happiness. We transform our lives.” – Sharon Salzberg

 

One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car.

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. 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 attentional processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to specific 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 P3b response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 2.5 to 5 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P3b (distractor positivity) component is thought to reflect an attentional suppression process involved in preventing shifts in attention. The N2 response is a negative electrical change that occurs around 2 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The N2 response has been implicated in conflict detection and executive attention. These components of the evoked potential can be used to assess the nature of attentional processing before and after meditation, reflecting how meditation might improve attention.

 

In today’s Research News article “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088366/ ), Norris and colleagues recruited undergraduate students for two experiments to examine the ability of a very brief meditation experience to affect attentional abilities.

 

In the first study they had the students listen to a 10-minute recording either of mindfulness meditation instructions or a reading of a National Geographic article about giant sequoias. The participants then performed a flanker task, a measure of executive cognitive function. In this task the participant has to respond to the direction of an arrow, when it is surrounded by distracting arrows that point either in the same (congruent) or opposite (incongruent) directions. Afterwards they completed the Big 5 Personality Inventory. They found that the participants who listened to the meditation recording were significantly more accurate on the flanker task on incongruent trials. This suggests that a brief meditation improves cognitive attentional ability to screen out irrelevant material.

 

In the second study students listened to recordings like in study 1 and performed an attention network task. It includes the flanker task but also includes measures of different types of attention, including alerting, orienting, and executive control. While performing the task the electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded and the event related potential recorded in response to the presentation of the task. They found that the participants who listened to the meditation recording were significantly faster in responding on the attentional network task. They found that the low neuroticism participants who listened to the meditation recording had significantly larger N2 ERP responses and significantly smaller P3b ERP responses during incongruent (conflict) task than controls. These changes in the ERP suggests that after meditation, the brain functions better in allocating attentional resources to the task at hand.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that even a single brief meditation experience can alter both behavioral and EEG measures of attention. They suggest that even a 10-minute meditation enhances attentional mechanisms. This extends the literature on the effectiveness of mindfulness training on attention, demonstrating that even 10 minutes of meditation exposure can improve the individual’s ability to attend to and process information in the present environment.

 

So, improve attention with even very brief meditation.

 

“intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person’s life,” – Anthony Zanesco

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Norris, C. J., Creem, D., Hendler, R., & Kober, H. (2018). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 315. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00315

 

Abstract

Past research has found that mindfulness meditation training improves executive attention. Event-related potentials (ERPs) have indicated that this effect could be driven by more efficient allocation of resources on demanding attentional tasks, such as the Flanker Task and the Attention Network Test (ANT). However, it is not clear whether these changes depend on long-term practice. In two studies, we sought to investigate the effects of a brief, 10-min meditation session on attention in novice meditators, compared to a control activity. We also tested moderation by individual differences in neuroticism and the possible underlying neural mechanisms driving these effects, using ERPs. In Study 1, participants randomly assigned to listen to a 10-min meditation tape had better accuracy on incongruent trials on a Flanker task, with no detriment in reaction times (RTs), indicating better allocation of resources. In Study 2, those assigned to listen to a meditation tape performed an ANT more quickly than control participants, with no detriment in performance. Neuroticism moderated both of these effects, and ERPs showed that those individuals lower in neuroticism who meditated for 10 min exhibited a larger N2 to incongruent trials compared to those who listened to a control tape; whereas those individuals higher in neuroticism did not. Together, our results support the hypothesis that even brief meditation improves allocation of attentional resources in some novices.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088366/

 

Alter Brain Electrical Activity with Meditation

Alter Brain Electrical Activity with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“the most general and consistently observed EEG correlate of meditation is an increase in the power of lower frequencies between 4 and 10 Hz corresponding to the theta band (4-8 Hz) and the lower end  of the alpha band (8-10 Hz).” –  Aaron D. Nitzkin

Meditation 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. Meditation techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner.

 

One way to observe the effects of meditation techniques is to measure the effects of each technique on the brain’s activity. This can be done by recording the electroencephalogram (EEG). The brain produces rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. It is usually separated into frequency bands. Delta activity consists of oscillations in the 0.5-3 cycles per second band. Theta activity in the EEG consists of oscillations in the 4-7.5 cycles per second band. Alpha activity consists of oscillations in the 8-12 cycles per second band. Beta activity consists of oscillations in the 13-30 cycles per second band while Gamma activity occurs in the 30-100 cycles per second band.

 

In today’s Research News article “Exploration of Lower Frequency EEG Dynamics and Cortical Alpha Asymmetry in Long-term Rajyoga Meditators.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5769196/ ), Sharma and colleagues examine the consequences of practicing Raja Yoga meditation on brain activity. They recruited adult male meditation naïve and also experienced meditators (>10 years experience) and recorded the electroencephalogram (EEG) from their scalps before and during meditation.

 

They found that comparing control subjects at rest to the experienced meditators during meditation there was a significant increase in Alpha rhythm power over the frontal and parietal cortexes and Theta rhythm over the medial frontal cortex. They also found that in comparison to controls and to baseline during meditation there was a significant difference in the frontal lobe Alpha power between the hemispheres, where the left hemisphere had significantly greater Alpha power than the right.

 

High Alpha and Theta power indicate that the brain in the affected areas is processing less information, is more at rest. This was particularly true for the left hemisphere which is traditionally thought to be involved in attention and to process high level verbal and mathematical thinking. These results then suggest that during meditation the anterior nervous system, particularly the left hemisphere, is at greater rest than when simply relaxing. This is exactly what is the intent of meditation to lessen thinking and heighten relaxation.  It is not surprising that the nervous system should be different in different states of activity. The fact that it relaxes during meditation would be expected.

 

So, alter brain electrical activity with meditation.

 

Raja Yoga meditation gives you peace of mind and relaxes your body. It helps you develop a positive attitude and respond better to situations” – Ramya Achanta

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Sharma, K., Chandra, S., & Dubey, A. K. (2018). Exploration of Lower Frequency EEG Dynamics and Cortical Alpha Asymmetry in Long-term Rajyoga Meditators. International Journal of Yoga, 11(1), 30–36. http://doi.org/10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_11_17

 

Abstract

Background:

Rajyoga meditation is taught by Prajapita Brahmakumaris World Spiritual University (Brahmakumaris) and has been followed by more than one million followers across the globe. However, rare studies were conducted on physiological aspects of rajyoga meditation using electroencephalography (EEG). Band power and cortical asymmetry were not studied with Rajyoga meditators.

Aims:

This study aims to investigate the effect of regular meditation practice on EEG brain dynamics in low-frequency bands of long-term Rajyoga meditators.

Settings and Design:

Subjects were matched for age in both groups. Lower frequency EEG bands were analyzed in resting and during meditation.

Materials and Methods:

Twenty-one male long-term meditators (LTMs) and same number of controls were selected to participate in study as par inclusion criteria. Semi high-density EEG was recorded before and during meditation in LTM group and resting in control group. The main outcome of the study was spectral power of alpha and theta bands and cortical (hemispherical) asymmetry calculated using band power.

Statistical Analysis:

One-way ANOVA was performed to find the significant difference between EEG spectral properties of groups. Pearson’s Chi-square test was used to find difference among demographics data.

Results:

Results reveal high-band power in alpha and theta spectra in meditators. Cortical asymmetry calculated through EEG power was also found to be high in frontal as well as parietal channels. However, no correlation was seen between the experience of meditation (years, hours) practice and EEG indices.

Conclusion:

Overall findings indicate contribution of smaller frequencies (alpha and theta) while maintaining meditative experience. This suggests a positive impact of meditation on frontal and parietal areas of brain, involved in the processes of regulation of selective and sustained attention as well as provide evidence about their involvement in emotion and cognitive processing.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5769196/

 

Measure Mindfulness Better in Depressed Patients with Changes in the EEG

Measure Mindfulness Better in Depressed Patients with Changes in the EEG

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“as the popularity of mindfulness grows, brain imaging techniques are revealing that this ancient practice can profoundly change the way different regions of the brain communicate with each other – and therefore how we think – permanently.” – Tom Ireland

 

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. One problem with understanding mindfulness effects is that there are, a wide variety of methods of measuring mindfulness. These methods primarily involve self-reports on paper and pencil scales. Unfortunately, these different measures differ conceptually and frequently produce divergent results.

 

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. It is usually separated into frequency bands. One method to indirectly observe information processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to specific 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. Perhaps change in the ERPs resulting from mindfulness training may be a good measure of the increased mindfulness produced by the training and a strong predictor of symptom improvements.

 

In today’s Research News article “Measuring Mindfulness: A Psychophysiological Approach.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6031749/ ), Bostanov and colleagues recruited adult patients with recurrent depression in remission and randomly assigned them to receive 8 weekly, 2 hour group sessions of either Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or group Cognitive Therapy (CT). They were also assigned 45 minutes of daily homework. MBCT begins with breath meditation and bodily sensation and progresses into learning to perceive thoughts and emotions as objects of mindful attention and as mental events and not as absolute truth, self or reality. CT contained all of the cognitive therapy components as MBCT but excluded mindfulness training.

 

The participants were measured before and after training for mindfulness, depression, positive and negative emotions, decentering, and curiosity. They also underwent recording from the scalp of electrical brain activity in response to a stimulus (event-related brain potentials, ERPs). With the participants instructed to perform breath meditation, they were periodically presented with a brief noise. The changes in the EEG in response to the noise were recorded and used to calculate the grand average event-related brain potentials.

 

They found that both the MBCT and CT groups had significant reductions in depression, rumination, and distraction and increases in mindfulness following the 8-week intervention period and one year later. Importantly, they found that the greater the change in the grand average event-related brain potentials resulting from treatment, the greater the reduction in depression symptoms and the greater the increase in mindfulness. These relationships were statistically strong. At the same time changes in the paper and pencil mindfulness measures were not significantly related to the improvements in depression.

 

These results suggest that changes in the brain are produced by mindfulness training and that these are reflected by changes in the electrical activity of the brain in response to sounds. The results further suggest that these brain activity changes are a better measure of the effectiveness of the mindfulness training than the traditional self-report measures. It was suggested that in the future these event related potential changes be used as the primary assessment instrument for mindfulness and the impact of mindfulness training on the individual.

 

So, measure mindfulness better in depressed patients with Changes in the EEG.

 

“Although meditation research is still in its infancy, a number of studies have investigated changes in brain activation at rest and during specific tasks that are associated with the practice of, or that follow, training in mindfulness meditation. There is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation might cause neuroplastic changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion and self-awareness.” – Sarah McKay

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Bostanov, V., Ohlrogge, L., Britz, R., Hautzinger, M., & Kotchoubey, B. (2018). Measuring Mindfulness: A Psychophysiological Approach. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 249. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00249

 

Abstract

Mindfulness-based interventions have proved effective in reducing various clinical symptoms and in improving general mental health and well-being. The investigation of the mechanisms of therapeutic change needs methods for assessment of mindfulness. Existing self-report measures have, however, been strongly criticized on various grounds, including distortion of the original concept, response bias, and other. We propose a psychophysiological method for the assessment of the mindfulness learned through time-limited mindfulness-based therapy by people who undergo meditation training for the first time. We use the individual pre-post-therapy changes (dERPi) in the event-related brain potentials (ERPs) recorded in a passive meditation task as a measure of increased mindfulness. dERPi is computed through multivariate assessment of individual participant’s ERPs. We tested the proposed method in a group of about 70 recurrently depressed participants, randomly assigned in 1.7:1 ratio to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or cognitive therapy (CT). The therapy outcome was measured by the long-term change (dDS) relative to baseline in the depression symptoms (DS) assessed weekly, for 60 weeks, by an online self-report questionnaire. We found a strong, highly significant, negative correlation (r = −0.55) between dERPi (mean = 0.4) and dDS (mean = −0.7) in the MBCT group. Compared to this result, the relationship between dDS and the other (self-report) measures of mindfulness we used was substantially weaker and not significant. So was also the relationship between dERPi and dDS in the CT group. The interpretation of dERPi as a measure of increased mindfulness was further supported by positive correlations between dERPi and the other measures of mindfulness. In this study, we also replicated a previous result, namely, the increase (dLCNV) of the late contingent negative variation (LCNV) of the ERP in the MBCT group, but not in the control group (in this case, CT). We interpreted dLCNV as a measure of increased meditative concentration. The relationship between dLCNV and dDS was, however, very week, which suggests that concentration might be relatively unimportant for the therapeutic effect of mindfulness. The proposed psychophysiological method could become an important component of a “mindfulness test battery” together with self-report questionnaires and other newly developed instruments.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6031749/

 

Improve Attentional Focus with Meditation

Improve Attentional Focus with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“realize that everything we think, feel, say, or do from one moment to the next all ultimately depend on the interactions between attention and awareness. Mindfulness is the optimum interaction between the two. Therefore, by skillfully working with attention and awareness to cultivate mindfulness, we can change everything we think, feel, say, and do for the better. In other words, we can completely transform who we are.” – Travis May

 

One of the primary effects of mindfulness training is an improvement in the ability to pay attention to the task at hand and ignore interfering stimuli. This is an important consequence of mindfulness training and produces improvements in thinking, reasoning, and creativity. The importance of heightened attentional ability to the individual’s ability to navigate the demands of complex modern life cannot be overstated. It helps at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car.

 

There is evidence that mindfulness training improves attention by altering the brain. It appears That mindfulness training increases the size, connectivity, and activity of areas of the brain that are involved in paying attention. 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 attentional processing in the brain is to measure the changes in the electrical activity that occur in response to specific stimuli. These are called evoked 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 Pd response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a tenth to 3 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The Pd (distractor positivity) component is thought to reflect an attentional suppression process involved in preventing shifts in attention. The N2pc response is a negative electrical change that occurs around 2 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The N2pc response has been associated with the engagement of visual attention, deploying attentional processes when needed. These components of the evoked potential can be used to assess the nature of attentional processing before and after meditation, reflecting how meditation might improve attention.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation Effects on the Control of Involuntary Contingent Reorienting Revealed With Electroencephalographic and Behavioral Evidence.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962705/ ), Tsai and colleagues recruited a group of college students who were meditators and a group who were not. They were asked to perform a rapid serial visual presentation task before and after a 30-minute meditation or rest. Order was counterbalanced on two different days. During the task the Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded and event related potentials identified and recorded related to the onset of the target stimulus.

 

The rapid serial visual presentation task consisted of the rapid presentation on a computer screen of three letters on the left, center, and right of the middle of the screen. The subjects were asked to respond by pressing a key with the right hand when the central letter was red and between the letter A to J in the alphabet and with the left hand when the red letter was present and between letter Q to Z. A red letter in the center occurred only once in every 24 trials. New letters were presented very rapidly, every .067 seconds. On occasions a red letter was presented as a distractor in either the left or right position. The participants were instructed to only respond to the letter in the center.

 

They found that when the red distractor was present in the left or right positions performance was significantly less accurate than when it was absent. But, although performance significantly improved after both meditation and rest, it was significantly better after meditation than after rest. In addition, after meditation, the Pd (distractor positivity) component of the evoked potential in response to the presence of a distractor red letter was stronger than after rest.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that after meditation the individual is better able to ignore a distractor and respond more accurately to a target. The EEG results with the evoked potentials suggest that the nervous system, after meditation, becomes better able to suppress responding to distractors in the immediate environment. This suggests that meditation enhances attention by preventing a shift in attention to other stimuli in the environment and thereby maintaining attention on the intended focus. Hence, the results suggest that meditation may improve attention by altering the brain’s processing of the stimuli present making it better able to focus by preventing responding to other stimuli.

 

So, improve attentional focus with meditation.

 

“A long-term study finds that consistent and intensive meditation sessions can have a long-lasting effect on a person’s attention span and other cognitive abilities.” – Rick Nauert

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Tsai, S.-Y., Jaiswal, S., Chang, C.-F., Liang, W.-K., Muggleton, N. G., & Juan, C.-H. (2018). Meditation Effects on the Control of Involuntary Contingent Reorienting Revealed With Electroencephalographic and Behavioral Evidence. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 12, 17. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2018.00017

 

Abstract

Prior studies have reported that meditation may improve cognitive functions and those related to attention in particular. Here, the dynamic process of attentional control, which allows subjects to focus attention on their current interests, was investigated. Concentrative meditation aims to cultivate the abilities of continuous focus and redirecting attention from distractions to the object of focus during meditation. However, it remains unclear how meditation may influence attentional reorientation, which involves interaction between both top-down and bottom-up processes. We aimed to investigate the modulating effect of meditation on the mechanisms of contingent reorienting by employing a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task in conjunction with electrophysiological recording. We recruited 26 meditators who had an average of 2.9 years of meditation experience and a control group comprising 26 individuals without any prior experience of meditation. All subjects performed a 30-min meditation and a rest condition with data collected pre- and post-intervention, with each intervention given on different days. The state effect of meditation improved overall accuracy for all subjects irrespective of their group. A group difference was observed across interventions, showing that meditators were more accurate and more efficient at attentional suppression, represented by a larger Pd (distractor positive) amplitude of event related modes (ERMs), for target-like distractors than the control group. The findings suggested that better attentional control with respect to distractors might be facilitated by acquiring experience of and skills related to meditation training.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962705/

 

Different Types of Meditation Techniques Affect Neural Activity Differently

Different Types of Meditation Techniques Affect Neural Activity Differently

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The picture we have is that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to recruit higher order, pre-frontal cortex regions in order to down-regulate lower-order brain activity.” – Adrienne Taren

 

Meditation 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, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.

 

There are a number of different types of meditation. Many can be characterized on a continuum with the degree and type of attentional focus. In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. Transcendental meditation is a silent mantra-based focused meditation in which a word or phrase is repeated over and over again with the meditator focusing attention on the mantra. This is designed to evoke the experience of pure awareness. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.

 

These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment, but there are large differences. These differences are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. One way to distinguish between the effects of these different meditation techniques is to observe the effects of each technique on the brain’s activity. This can be measured by recording the electroencephalogram (EEG). The brain produces rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. It is usually separated into frequency bands. Delta activity consists of oscillations in the 0.5-3 cycles per second band. Theta activity in the EEG consists of oscillations in the 4-7.5 cycles per second band. Alpha activity consists of oscillations in the 8-12 cycles per second band. Beta activity consists of oscillations in the 13-30 cycles per second band while Gamma activity occurs in the 30-100 cycles per second band.

 

 

In today’s Research News article “.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5890111/ ), and colleagues review and summarize the published research literature on the effects of various meditation techniques on neural activity as measured with the electroencephalogram (EEG). They report that meditation practice, in general, is associated with increased brain oscillations and the greater the amount of practice the greater the increase in oscillations. This suggests that meditation practice, regardless of type, effects neural activity.

 

Activity in the Theta band of the EEG (4-7.5 hz.) differs with the type of meditation practiced. Both, focused and open monitoring meditation increase Theta oscillations in the anterior portions of the cerebral cortex. But, focused meditation also increases Theta activity in the posterior cortex. Theta activity is associated with positive emotional states and memory.

 

Activity in the Alpha band of the EEG (6-12 hz.) differs with the type of meditation practiced. Both, focused and open monitoring meditation increase Alpha oscillations in the posterior portions of the cerebral cortex. But, focused meditation also increases Alpha activity in the anterior cortex while open monitoring meditation decreases Alpha on the left side of the frontal cortex. Alpha activity is associated with relaxation and drowsiness.

 

Activity in the Gamma band of the EEG (6-12 hz.) increases in the frontal regions with all forms of meditation. This is sometimes known as fast wave activity and is associated with sensory and cognitive processing. There is conflicting evidence regarding the effects of meditation practice on the other oscillatory bands.

 

This research makes it clear that meditation practice increases the brains electrical activity and there appears to be differences in the oscillatory patterns produced by different meditation techniques. This may help in identifying the underlying processes responsible for the differing effects of these practices. But, the research is at a very early stage of development and much more work will be required to come to any firm conclusions.

 

So, it is clear that different types of meditation techniques affect neural activity differently.

 

“It was already known that during meditation brain wave activity increases in areas like alpha waves. These MRIs showed something more permanent: denser gray matter in specific regions like the hippocampus, which is crucial for learning and memory, as well as in other areas associated with self-awareness, compassion, and reflection.” – Deepak Chopra

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Lee, D. J., Kulubya, E., Goldin, P., Goodarzi, A., & Girgis, F. (2018). Review of the Neural Oscillations Underlying Meditation. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 178. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00178

 

Abstract

Objective: Meditation is one type of mental training that has been shown to produce many cognitive benefits. Meditation practice is associated with improvement in concentration and reduction of stress, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, different forms of meditation training are now being used as interventions for a variety of psychological and somatic illnesses. These benefits are thought to occur as a result of neurophysiologic changes. The most commonly studied specific meditation practices are focused attention (FA), open-monitoring (OM), as well as transcendental meditation (TM), and loving-kindness (LK) meditation. In this review, we compare the neural oscillatory patterns during these forms of meditation.

Method: We performed a systematic review of neural oscillations during FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation practices, comparing meditators to meditation-naïve adults.

Results: FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation are associated with global increases in oscillatory activity in meditators compared to meditation-naïve adults, with larger changes occurring as the length of meditation training increases. While FA and OM are related to increases in anterior theta activity, only FA is associated with changes in posterior theta oscillations. Alpha activity increases in posterior brain regions during both FA and OM. In anterior regions, FA shows a bilateral increase in alpha power, while OM shows a decrease only in left-sided power. Gamma activity in these meditation practices is similar in frontal regions, but increases are variable in parietal and occipital regions.

Conclusions: The current literature suggests distinct differences in neural oscillatory activity among FA, OM, TM, and LK meditation practices. Further characterizing these oscillatory changes may better elucidate the cognitive and therapeutic effects of specific meditation practices, and potentially lead to the development of novel neuromodulation targets to take advantage of their benefits.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5890111/

 

Sustain Attention, Vigilance, and Energy in Nurses with Mindfulness

Sustain Attention, Vigilance, and Energy in Nurses with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“As attention is rooted more firmly in the present and less on the past and/or future, depression, rumination, and anxiety decrease,” the article explains. “The resulting effect is energy that was once spent clinging to the past or worrying about the future can now be spent in the present.” Mindful nurse leaders are likewise aware of the employees and organizations behind their day-to-day work. They’re authentic. They connect with others. They stay in touch with their values.”

 

Medical professionals have to pay close and sustained attention to their jobs. The consequences of lapses and error can be catastrophic. Yet often their jobs are repetitive which can tax attention and reduce needed vigilance. Contemplative practices have been shown to improve attention and vigilance and to maintain high levels of performance on the job. In today’s Research News article “Positive Effects of Mindfulness-Based Training on Energy Maintenance and the EEG Correlates of Sustained Attention in a Cohort of Nurses.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5838011/ ), Wong and colleagues investigate the effectiveness of mindfulness training to improve attention and vigilance in nurses tested in a laboratory environment.

 

They recruited nurses and trained them in mindfulness with an 8-week, once a week for 90 minutes, program based upon the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, containing meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. Training attendance was monitored and recorded. They were measured before and after training with a 20-minute psychomotor task requiring sustained attention and vigilance. In addition, the nurses were measured for sleep duration for two nights. They also completed scales of energy and mood and had their brain activity monitored during rest and during meditation, and with an electroencephalogram (EEG). They also recorded the event related potentials (ERP) in the EEG evoked by stimulus presentation during the attention and vigilance task.

 

They found that following mindfulness training the nurses had significantly smaller reduction in energy during performance of the attention and vigilance task and the greater the attendance at the mindfulness training sessions, the greater the energy sustainment. This was also true for their attention and vigilance, with nurses with high training attendance having significantly smaller reductions in response speed and significantly smaller increases in attentional lapses over the 20-minute task duration. Hence, those nurses with high mindfulness training attendance sustained their energy and attention better over the task period.

 

With the electroencephalogram (EEG), they found that after mindfulness training there were significantly smaller reductions in alpha rhythm power during meditation, suggesting improved attention. These improvements were higher in nurses who attended training more regularly. Similar findings were present with the EEG event related potentials (ERP), such that P3 amplitude reductions were lower over the attention and vigilance task, indicating greater sustainment of arousal and attention. Hence, brain electrical activity also suggested greater sustainment of attention following mindfulness training.

 

The results are interesting and potentially important. They suggest that mindfulness training can improve nurses’ abilities to sustain attention and vigilance over a prolonged period. This was evidenced by both behavioral and EEG indicators of sustained attention and vigilance. This is potentially important as it may suggest that mindfulness training may improve performance on the job, reducing lapses and errors. Future research is needed to verify if, indeed, mindfulness training has similar effects on the job that it has in the laboratory.

 

So, sustain attention, vigilance, and energy in nurses with mindfulness.

 

“Burnout continues to be a significant occupational hazard in the nursing profession. Mindfulness may be the necessary approach to help combat nursing burnout, affording considerable promise for the future of the nursing profession.” – Pamela Heard

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Wong, K. F., Teng, J., Chee, M. W. L., Doshi, K., & Lim, J. (2018). Positive Effects of Mindfulness-Based Training on Energy Maintenance and the EEG Correlates of Sustained Attention in a Cohort of Nurses. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 80. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00080

 

Abstract

Mindfulness based training (MBT) is becoming increasingly popular as a means to improve general wellbeing through developing enhanced control over metacognitive processes. In this preliminary study, we tested a cohort of 36 nurses (mean age = 30.3, SD = 8.52; 2 male) who participated in an 8-week MBT intervention to examine the improvements in sustained attention and its energetic costs that may result from MBT. Changes in sustained attention were measured using the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) and electroencephalography (EEG) was collected both during PVT performance, and during a brief period of meditation. As there was substantial variability in training attendance, this variable was used a covariate in all analyses. Following the MBT program, we observed changes in alpha power across all scalp regions during meditation that were correlated with attendance. Similarly, PVT performance worsened over the 8-week period, but that this decline was mitigated by good attendance on the MBT program. The subjective energy depletion due to PVT performance (measured using self-report on Likert-type scales) was also less in regular attendees. Finally, changes in known EEG markers of attention during PVT performance (P300 and alpha-band event-related desynchronization) paralleled these behavioral shifts. Taken together, our data suggest that sustained attention and its associated costs may be negatively affected over time in the nursing profession, but that regular attendance of MBT may help to attenuate these effects. However, as this study contained no control condition, we cannot rule out that other factors (e.g., motivation, placebo effects) may also account for our findings.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5838011/

 

Improve Brain Processing of Emotional Stimuli with Mindfulness

Improve Brain Processing of Emotional Stimuli with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“If you’re a naturally mindful person, and you’re walking around very aware of things, you’re good to go. You shed your emotions quickly,” Moser said. “If you’re not naturally mindful, then meditating can make you look like a person who walks around with a lot of mindfulness.” – Jason Moser

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practices appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve emotion regulation. Practitioners demonstrate the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, but respond to them in more appropriate and adaptive ways. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control their responses to emotions. This is a very important consequence of mindfulness. Humans are very emotional creatures and these emotions can be very pleasant, providing the spice of life. But, when they get extreme they can produce misery and even mental illness. The ability of mindfulness training to improve emotion regulation is thought to be the basis for a wide variety of benefits that mindfulness provides to mental health and the treatment of mental illness especially depression and anxiety disorders.

 

One way to measure emotional responses is to record brain activity with the electroencephalogram (EEG) that occurs in response to visual stimuli that reliably evoke emotional responses. In particular, the late positive potential (LPP) response in the EEG is a positive going electrical response to an emotion laden picture that occurs between 0.3 to 0.6 seconds following stimulus presentation. The LPP response has been associated with the presence of emotional information. As such, these electrical responses can be used to measure the brains response to emotional laden stimuli and can perhaps measure brain process of emotion regulation. It may be that simply being a mindful individual may be associated with different processing of emotional stimuli by the brain and this can be seen in the LPP response.

 

In today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness and the attenuation of neural responses to emotional stimuli.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541486/ ), Brown and colleagues recruited college students and measured their enduring levels of mindfulness (trait mindfulness), attentional control, neuroticism, and levels of positive and negative emotions. They measured the electroencephalogram (EEG) changes in the students that occurred in response to pictures that evoked pleasant or unpleasant emotions at a high level (e.g. skydiving, erotica, vs. mutilations) or at a low level (e.g. flowers vs. pollution).

 

They found, confirming prior research, that the late positive potential (LPP) response in the EEG was larger after pictures that evoked strong emotions regardless of whether they were pleasant or unpleasant than after pictures that evoked weak emotions. Importantly, they found that the trait mindfulness of the participants modulated the response. Students high in mindfulness had smaller LPP responses to images that evoked strong emotions both pleasant and unpleasant than low mindfulness students. Hence, mindfulness was shown to lessen the brains response to emotion laden stimuli.

 

This is interesting research that suggests that mindfulness changes the brains processing of emotional stimuli, reducing the strength of the response. The LPP is indicative of the very early stage of brain processing of emotional material. So, the results suggest that the brains of mindful people improve their ability to regulate their emotions and that this occurs at a very early stage of neural processing. It reduces the magnitude of the initial response to emotions. This may make difficult or extreme emotion easier to handle.

 

So, improve brain processing of emotional stimuli with mindfulness.

 

“The impact that mindfulness exerts on our brain is borne from routine: a slow, steady, and consistent reckoning of our realities, and the ability to take a step back, become more aware, more accepting, less judgmental, and less reactive. Just as playing the piano over and over again over time strengthens and supports brain networks involved with playing music, mindfulness over time can make the brain, and thus, us, more efficient regulators, with a penchant for pausing to respond to our worlds instead of mindlessly reacting.” – Jennifer Wolkin

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Brown, K. W., Goodman, R. J., & Inzlicht, M. (2013). Dispositional mindfulness and the attenuation of neural responses to emotional stimuli. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(1), 93–99. http://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss004

 

Abstract

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.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541486/