Improve Attentional Monitoring of Others Emotions with Mindfulness

Improve Attentional Monitoring of Others Emotions with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“experience with mindfulness meditation is associated with distinct reactions to emotional provocations in attention and social decision-making tasks, and have implications for understanding the relationship between mindfulness meditation and emotion regulation.” – Deidre Reis

 

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. 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.

 

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 N200 response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a negative going electrical response occurring between a 2.0 to 3.5 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The N200 component is thought to reflect attentional monitoring of conflict. The P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) is a positive going electrical response occurring between a 3.5 to 6.0 tenths of a second following the target stimulus presentation. The P300 component is thought to reflect inhibitory processes.

 

In today’s Research News article “Brief mindfulness training enhances cognitive control in socioemotional contexts: Behavioral and neural evidence.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6641506/), Quaglia and colleagues recruited healthy adults and randomly assigned them to receive 4 20-minute sessions of either mindfulness training or book listening. They were measured before and after training for mindfulness and were tested with an emotional go no-go task in which they were asked to press a button when a picture of a face was presented that expressed a particular emotion and not respond to faces with other emotions. The pictures were of faces expression either anger, happiness, or neutral emotions. During the task the brain electrical activity was recorded with an electroencephalograph (EEG).

 

They found, as expected, that the group receiving mindfulness training, in comparison to the book listening group, had significantly higher mindfulness following training. They found that the mindfulness group, after training had significantly better scores, including both speed and accuracy, for facial emotion discrimination than the control group. With the evoked potentials, they found that on no-go trials, trials where the target facial emotion was not present. The mindfulness trained participants had significantly larger N200 amplitudes than the controls.

 

These results suggest that mindfulness training makes the individual more sensitive to emotional expressions by others. The evoked potentials in the EEGs suggest that mindfulness training did this by enhancing the brain’s ability to pay attention and monitor conflict allowing the individual to better withhold responses when appropriate. This could, in part, explain the improvement of emotion regulation with mindfulness training and may be the basis for the prior findings that mindfulness training improves responding in social contexts.

 

So, improve attentional monitoring of others emotions with mindfulness.

 

“our cognitive structures, as a developmental system, have the capacity to advance to a higher (more accurate) level of understanding about social and psychological reality, as the result of learning from the interacting experiences.” – Key Sun

 

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

 

Quaglia, J. T., Zeidan, F., Grossenbacher, P. G., Freeman, S. P., Braun, S. E., Martelli, A., … Brown, K. W. (2019). Brief mindfulness training enhances cognitive control in socioemotional contexts: Behavioral and neural evidence. PloS one, 14(7), e0219862. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0219862

 

Abstract

In social contexts, the dynamic nature of others’ emotions places unique demands on attention and emotion regulation. Mindfulness, characterized by heightened and receptive moment-to-moment attending, may be well-suited to meet these demands. In particular, mindfulness may support more effective cognitive control in social situations via efficient deployment of top-down attention. To test this, a randomized controlled study examined effects of mindfulness training (MT) on behavioral and neural (event-related potentials [ERPs]) responses during an emotional go/no-go task that tested cognitive control in the context of emotional facial expressions that tend to elicit approach or avoidance behavior. Participants (N = 66) were randomly assigned to four brief (20 min) MT sessions or to structurally equivalent book learning control sessions. Relative to the control group, MT led to improved discrimination of facial expressions, as indexed by d-prime, as well as more efficient cognitive control, as indexed by response time and accuracy, and particularly for those evidencing poorer discrimination and cognitive control at baseline. MT also produced better conflict monitoring of behavioral goal-prepotent response tendencies, as indexed by larger No-Go N200 ERP amplitudes, and particularly so for those with smaller No-Go amplitude at baseline. Overall, findings are consistent with MT’s potential to enhance deployment of early top-down attention to better meet the unique cognitive and emotional demands of socioemotional contexts, particularly for those with greater opportunity for change. Findings also suggest that early top-down attention deployment could be a cognitive mechanism correspondent to the present-oriented attention commonly used to explain regulatory benefits of mindfulness more broadly.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6641506/

 

Different Activity of the Brain is Associated with Meditation

Different Activity of the Brain is Associated with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Backed by 1000’s of studies, meditation is the neuroscientific community’s most proven way to upgrade the human brain.” – EOC Institute

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. One way that mindfulness practices may produce these benefits is by altering the brain. 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 practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6312586/), Lardone and colleagues recruited healthy adult participants who had practiced Vipassana meditation for at least one year and participants who had never meditated. They recorded functional connectivity of brain regions with magnetoencephalography, a technique to record brain activity.

 

They found that in comparison to non-meditators, the meditators had increased activity in the Amygdala in the gamma frequency band (25-100 hz), the Hippocampus, the Caudate and the Cingulum in the Theta frequency band (4-8 hz), and the prefrontal cortex in the alpha frequency band (8-12 hz). Hence, there were significant differences in neural activity in the brains of meditators vs. non-meditators.

 

This study is correlative and causation cannot be determined. Meditation may cause these brain activity changes, or people with these kinds of brain activity are likely to engage in meditation, or some third factor may cause them both to covary. Nevertheless, it is clear that meditation practice is associated with different brain activity. This may be the physiological process that underlies some or all of the widespread psychological and physical benefits of meditation practice.

 

“Meditation provides experiences that the mind can achieve no other way, such as inner silence and expanded awareness. And as the mind gains experience, the brain shows physical activity as well—sometimes profound changes.” – 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

 

Lardone, A., Liparoti, M., Sorrentino, P., Rucco, R., Jacini, F., Polverino, A., … Mandolesi, L. (2018). Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study. Neural plasticity, 2018, 5340717. doi:10.1155/2018/5340717

 

Abstract

It has been suggested that the practice of meditation is associated to neuroplasticity phenomena, reducing age-related brain degeneration and improving cognitive functions. Neuroimaging studies have shown that the brain connectivity changes in meditators. In the present work, we aim to describe the possible long-term effects of meditation on the brain networks. To this aim, we used magnetoencephalography to study functional resting-state brain networks in Vipassana meditators. We observed topological modifications in the brain network in meditators compared to controls. More specifically, in the theta band, the meditators showed statistically significant (p corrected = 0.009) higher degree (a centrality index that represents the number of connections incident upon a given node) in the right hippocampus as compared to controls. Taking into account the role of the hippocampus in memory processes, and in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease, meditation might have a potential role in a panel of preventive strategies.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6312586/

 

Alter Brain Activation Regardless of Depression with Mindfulness

Alter Brain Activation Regardless of Depression with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Now, 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

 

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 can be relatively permanent and 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, meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

The brain produces rhythmic electrical activity that can be recorded from the scalp. The neuroplastic changes in the brain may be seen by recording the brain’s electrical activity with the electroencephalogram (EEG). It is possible that the EEG can be used to indirectly observe the activity of the brain and changes in the brain activation produced by mindfulness training and its consequent improvements in mental health.

 

In today’s Research News article “Spiking Neural Network Modelling Approach Reveals How Mindfulness Training Rewires the Brain.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6478904/), Doborjeh and colleagues recruited adults and provided them with a 6-week, once a week for 90-120 minutes, mindfulness training. They separated the participants based upon a paper and pencil measure of depression into low depression, no depression, and high depression groups. Before and after training they measured the participants brain electrical activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG). They then employed a sophisticated data analysis algorithm to follow bursts of electrical activity through the brain (Spiking Neural Network).

 

They found that the no depression and low depression groups had overall higher activation than the high depression group. After mindfulness training the high depression group had higher activation at the frontal, temporal, frontocentral, and centroparietal sites, while the no depression group had higher activation of the frontal and occipitalparietal cortical areas, and the low depression group had higher activation at the frontal, temporal, and frontocentral sites.

 

The results are interesting and suggest that the Spiking Neural Network analysis of the electroencephalogram (EEG) can detect differences in brain activation in groups varying in levels of depression and can also detect neuroplastic changes resulting from mindfulness training. This is an important demonstration as it verifies that the easy, non-invasive, and economical EEG recording technique can be used to assess the details of neural function and the changes in neural function that may occur after an intervention.

 

Additionally, the results suggest that depressed individuals have quite low levels of brain activation which may, in part, be responsible for their depression. The results also show that mindfulness training in these depressed individuals can, to some extent, raise the levels of brain activation. This may be responsible, in part, for the ability of mindfulness training to decrease depression levels in depressed individuals. In addition, the results suggest that even in low and non-depressed individuals, mindfulness training can further increase brain activation. This may be responsible for the improvement in emotion regulation and mood in normal individuals that is produced by mindfulness training.

 

So, alter brain activation regardless of depression with mindfulness.

 

“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.” – Britta Hőlzel

 

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

 

Doborjeh, Z., Doborjeh, M., Taylor, T., Kasabov, N., Wang, G. Y., Siegert, R., & Sumich, A. (2019). Spiking Neural Network Modelling Approach Reveals How Mindfulness Training Rewires the Brain. Scientific reports, 9(1), 6367. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-42863-x

 

Abstract

There has been substantial interest in Mindfulness Training (MT) to understand how it can benefit healthy individuals as well as people with a broad range of health conditions. Research has begun to delineate associated changes in brain function. However, whether measures of brain function can be used to identify individuals who are more likely to respond to MT remains unclear. The present study applies a recently developed brain-inspired Spiking Neural Network (SNN) model to electroencephalography (EEG) data to provide novel insight into: i) brain function in depression; ii) the effect of MT on depressed and non-depressed individuals; and iii) neurobiological characteristics of depressed individuals who respond to mindfulness. Resting state EEG was recorded from before and after a 6 week MT programme in 18 participants. Based on self-report, 3 groups were formed: non-depressed (ND), depressed before but not after MT (responsive, D+) and depressed both before and after MT (unresponsive, D−). The proposed SNN, which utilises a standard brain-template, was used to model EEG data and assess connectivity, as indicated by activation levels across scalp regions (frontal, frontocentral, temporal, centroparietal and occipitoparietal), at baseline and follow-up. Results suggest an increase in activation following MT that was site-specific as a function of the group. Greater initial activation levels were seen in ND compared to depressed groups, and this difference was maintained at frontal and occipitoparietal regions following MT. At baseline, D+ had great activation than D−. Following MT, frontocentral and temporal activation reached ND levels in D+ but remained low in D−. Findings support the SNN approach in distinguishing brain states associated with depression and responsiveness to MT. The results also demonstrated that the SNN approach can be used to predict the effect of mindfulness on an individual basis before it is even applied.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6478904/

 

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

Eye Movements Reveal Mind Wandering During Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Distractions in the mind translate to micro movements in the eyes or eyelids, and vice-versa. Stillness of eyes brings stillness of mind, and vice-versa.” – Giovanni

 

We spend a tremendous amount of waking time with our minds wandering and not on the present environment or the task at hand. We daydream, plan for the future, review the past, ruminate on our failures, exalt in our successes. In fact, we spend almost half of our waking hours off task with our mind wandering. Mind wandering is also present even during meditation. Mind wandering interferes with our concentration on the present moment. Focused meditation, on the other hand, is the antithesis of mind wandering. Indeed, the more mindful we are the less the mind wanders.

 

A system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) becomes active during wind wandering and relatively quiet during focused on task behavior. Meditation is known to reduce the size, connectivity, and activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN).  Hence, brain activity may help identify mind wandering when it occurs. Eye movements occur even when the eyes are closed and during meditation. They may also be indicators of mind wander in during meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/), Matiz and colleagues recruited adult experienced meditators. They engaged in a 7-minute focused breath meditation or a 7-minute mind wandering where they were asked to “remember or imagine one or more events of their past or future in which they, or another person, were the protagonist.” During the session brain activity, the electroencephalogram (EEG), was recorded. They derived a measure from the EEG that indicated vertical and horizontal eye movements. They also measured the total amount of meditation experience for each participant.

 

They found that during the 7-minutes of mind wandering there were significantly more eye movements, including both vertical and horizontal movements, than during the7-minutes of  focused meditation. In addition, they found that the more meditation experience that the meditator had, the fewer the eye movements that were recorded under both conditions. Hence, experienced meditators not only move their eyes less during meditation and but also during mind wandering.

 

These are interesting findings that suggest that analysis of the brain’s electrical activity, electroencephalogram (EEG), may be able to detect when mind wandering is occurring during meditation. This could lead to the possibility of providing biofeedback to the meditator when the mind is wandering, lessening the amount of mind wandering and thereby deepening the meditative experience. This is an intriguing possibility for future research.

 

When the mind becomes steady in meditation, the eyeballs also become steady. A Yogi whose mind is calm will have a steady eye. “ – Swami Sivananda

 

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

 

Matiz, A., Crescentini, C., Fabbro, A., Budai, R., Bergamasco, M., & Fabbro, F. (2019). Spontaneous eye movements during focused-attention mindfulness meditation. PloS one, 14(1), e0210862. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210862

 

Abstract

Oculometric measures have been proven to be useful markers of mind-wandering during visual tasks such as reading. However, little is known about ocular activity during mindfulness meditation, a mental practice naturally involving mind-wandering episodes. In order to explore this issue, we extracted closed-eyes ocular movement measurements via a covert technique (EEG recordings) from expert meditators during two repetitions of a 7-minute mindfulness meditation session, focusing on the breath, and two repetitions of a 7-minute instructed mind-wandering task. Power spectral density was estimated on both the vertical and horizontal components of eye movements. The results show a significantly smaller average amplitude of eye movements in the delta band (1–4 Hz) during mindfulness meditation than instructed mind-wandering. Moreover, participants’ meditation expertise correlated significantly with this average amplitude during both tasks, with more experienced meditators generally moving their eyes less than less experienced meditators. These findings suggest the potential use of this measure to detect mind-wandering episodes during mindfulness meditation and to assess meditation performance.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345481/

 

Affect the Brain with Religious Chanting

Affect the Brain with Religious Chanting

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

According to a recent medical report, chanting Om has been associated with reducing stress. One of the biggest health benefits of Om chanting is that it brings down stress levels. It provides relief from anxiety and tension. Regular chanting ensures that you feel peaceful from within and are less distracted while doing any form of work.” – Pavankumar elkoochi

 

Contemplative practices have been shown to improve health and well-being. One ancient practice that is again receiving acceptance and use is chanting. It is a very common component of many contemplative practices. Chanting is claimed to be helpful in contemplative practice and to help improve physical and mental well-being. But there is very little empirical research on chanting or its effectiveness.

 

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 area. and have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. What changes in the brain that may occur with chanting are not known.

 

In today’s Research News article “The neurophysiological correlates of religious chanting.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6414545/), Gao and colleagues recruited participants who practiced Buddhist chanting for at least one year for 15 minutes per day. The participants were measured for brain electrical activity with the electroencephalogram (EEG) and for cardiac activity with an electrocardiogram (ECG) under 3 conditions, rest, silent Buddhist chanting (religious chanting), and silent chanting Santa Claus (non-religious chanting). One Buddhist monk who had spent years chanting underwent a function Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scan under similar conditions.

 

They found that the fMRI revealed altered activity in the posterior cingulate cortex during religious vs. non-religious chanting. In the experienced chanters the EEG activity was found to have significantly higher power in the Delta low frequency region (1-4 Hertz) from the posterior cingulate cortex region during religious, but not non-religious chanting. In addition, the ECG had significantly lower power during religious, but not non-religious chanting.

 

These findings are very interesting and suggest that religious chanting has specific effects upon the brain and peripheral nervous system that might explain some of the benefits of this chanting. The lowered cardiac power suggests relaxation and a predominance of the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. This could in part be responsible for anti-stress effects of meditation practice.

 

The posterior cingulate cortex has been shown through multiple lines of evidence to be involved in self-referential thinking. Delta frequency waves are associated with reduced actual activity as they are increased during light sleep. Hence the results suggest that religious chanting suppresses thinking about the self. This is exactly what most meditation practices attempt to do. The results, then suggest that religious chanting is an effective contemplative practice in altering the brain activity to reduce self-referential thinking and peripheral nervous system activity to increase relaxation.

 

So, affect the brain with religious chanting.

 

“Mantras give the wandering mind a focal point. They produce a beat and a flow that is easy for the mind and body’s energy system to grasp a hold of. When the mind wants to wander out of the meditative state, the mantra helps bring it back.” – EOC

 

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

 

Gao, J., Leung, H. K., Wu, B., Skouras, S., & Sik, H. H. (2019). The neurophysiological correlates of religious chanting. Scientific reports, 9(1), 4262. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-40200-w

 

Abstract

Despite extensive research on various types of meditation, research on the neural correlates of religious chanting is in a nascent stage. Using multi-modal electrophysiological and neuroimaging methods, we illustrate that during religious chanting, the posterior cingulate cortex shows the largest decrease in eigenvector centrality, potentially due to regional endogenous generation of delta oscillations. Our data show that these functional effects are not due to peripheral cardiac or respiratory activity, nor due to implicit language processing. Finally, we suggest that the neurophysiological correlates of religious chanting are likely different from those of meditation and prayer, and would possibly induce distinctive psychotherapeutic effects.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6414545/

 

Improve Feedback Learning with Focused Meditation

Improve Feedback Learning with Focused Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Meditation is a powerful tool for the body and the mind; it can reduce stress and improve immune function. But can it also help us train our minds to learn faster from feedback or information acquired through past experiences?” – Jasmine Collier

 

Learning is fundamental to humans’ ability to survive and adapt in our environments. It is particularly essential in modern environments. Indeed, modern humans need to spend decades learning the knowledge and skills that are needed to be productive. Essential to the learning process is reacting to feedback from the consequences of actions. This is known as the “Law of Effect. Mindfulness is known to improve learning. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate how mindfulness training may improve the ability to respond to the feedback and learn.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation experience predicts negative reinforcement learning and is associated with attenuated FRN amplitude.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6420441/), Knytl and Opitz recruited healthy adults and separated them into groups who were non-meditators, novice meditators, and experienced meditators. The meditators were practitioners of focused meditation. They performed a probablistic selection task while the electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded. Event related potentials (ERPs) were recorded in response to the presentation of the symbols.

 

In the probablistic selection task the participants were asked to select between two symbols presented randomly on a computer screen. One symbol, if selected, would produce positive feedback (10 points). Whether that symbol produced the feedback did not occur on every occasion. There were different probabilities of feedback, 20%, 30%, 40%, 60%, 70%, 80%. In the 60% case feedback would occur 6 out of every 10 times the symbol was presented. The participants were not told which symbols would produce positive feedback. They had to discover it themselves.

 

They found that non-meditators were significantly more negatively biased while focused meditators were significantly more positively biased. The non-meditators were better at not responding on trials where there was no positive feedback symbol present while the focused meditators were better at responding on trials where there was a positive feedback symbol present. In addition, they found that the more years of focused meditation experience the larger the difference.

 

In the EEG, the focused meditators had the smallest feedback related negativity (FRN) which involves a greater negative going electrical response of the frontal lobes in the event related potential (ERP) that occurred about a quarter of a second after the stimulus on positive trials than on negative trials. This response is thought to signal reinforcement occurring in the brain systems. In addition, they found that the more years of meditation experience the larger the reduction in the FRN.

 

The study is complicated and the results difficult to interpret, but they suggest that focused meditation experience makes and individual more sensitive to positive reinforcement and less sensitive to negative reinforcement. This bias is reflected in both the behavioral and event related potential data. This suggests that the demonstrated ability of focused meditation training to improve attention ability improves the ability of the meditator to detect stimuli that produce positive reinforcement. This makes meditators better at learning the feedback signals provided by the environment.

 

So, improve feedback learning with focused meditation.

 

“Humans have been meditating for over 2000 years, but the neural mechanisms of this practice are still relatively unknown. These findings demonstrate that, on a deep level, meditators respond to feedback in a more even-handed way than non-meditators, which may help to explain some of the psychological benefits they experience from the practice.” – Paul Knytl

 

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

 

Knytl, P., & Opitz, B. (2018). Meditation experience predicts negative reinforcement learning and is associated with attenuated FRN amplitude. Cognitive, affective & behavioral neuroscience, 19(2), 268–282. doi:10.3758/s13415-018-00665-0

 

Abstract

Focused attention meditation (FAM) practices are cognitive control exercises where meditators learn to maintain focus and attention in the face of distracting stimuli. Previous studies have shown that FAM is both activating and causing plastic changes to the mesolimbic dopamine system and some of its target structures, particularly the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and striatum. Feedback-based learning also depends on these systems and is known to be modulated by tonic dopamine levels. Capitalizing on previous findings that FAM practices seem to cause dopamine release, the present study shows that FAM experience predicts learning from negative feedback on a probabilistic selection task. Furthermore, meditators exhibited attenuated feedback-related negativity (FRN) as compared with nonmeditators and this effect scales with meditation experience. Given that reinforcement learning and FRN are modulated by dopamine levels, a possible explanation for our findings is that FAM practice causes persistent increases in tonic dopamine levels which scale with amount of practice, thus altering feedback processing.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6420441/

 

Improved Executive Attention with Mindfulness is Mediated by Brain Processing

Improved Executive Attention with Mindfulness is Mediated by Brain Processing

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

With practice, we can strengthen the part of our brain that helps focus and sustain attention. Building that strength has enormous payoffs in performance, relationships and a sense of well-being.” – Laurie Cameron

 

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 in school, at work, in relationships, or simply driving a car. As important as attention is, it’s surprising that little is known about the mechanisms by which mindfulness improves attention

 

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 P3 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 P3 component is thought to reflect attentional processing.

 

In today’s Research News article “). Clarifying the relationship between mindfulness and executive attention: A combined behavioral and neurophysiological study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374600/), Lin and colleagues recruited female college students who did not have a mindfulness practice and measured their trait mindfulness and tested them for attention with a flanker task where the participant had to respond to a stimulus and ignore irrelevant but distracting material. During the task the Electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded and the brain electrical response to the stimulus recorded (ERP).

 

They found that the higher the level of the student’s mindfulness the better they performed on the flanker task, indicating better executive attention. Also, the higher the level of mindfulness, the smaller the P3 component in the event-related potential (ERP) when highly distracting flanker material was present. Mediation analysis revealed that mindfulness was associated by better performance both directly by being associated with fewer errors and also indirectly by being associated with a smaller P3 component in the ERP which, in turn, was associated with fewer errors.

 

These results suggest that mindfulness is associated with better executive attention allowing the individual to better ignore distractions. It appears to do so in two ways, directly and also by influencing a brain mechanism that heightens attention. This is an important benefit of mindfulness as better attentional ability is important for virtually every aspect of life from school performance to social interactions. This study suggests that a brain mechanism may, in part, be responsible for this important benefit of mindfulness.

 

Hence, improved executive attention with mindfulness is mediated by brain processing.

 

“Being able to exercise focused attention simply means being able to direct your attention, becoming aware if your mind has wandered, and then being able to redirect your focus.” – Rich Fernandez

 

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

 

Lin, Y., Fisher, M. E., & Moser, J. S. (2018). Clarifying the relationship between mindfulness and executive attention: A combined behavioral and neurophysiological study. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 14(2), 205–215. Advance online publication. doi:10.1093/scan/nsy113

 

Abstract

Mindfulness is frequently associated with improved attention. However, the nature of the relationship between mindfulness and executive attention, a core function of the attentional system, is surprisingly unclear. Studies employing behavioral measures of executive attention have been equivocal. Although neuroscientific studies have yielded more consistent findings, reporting functional and structural changes in executive attention brain regions, the observed changes in brain activity have not been linked to behavioral performance. The current study aimed to fill these gaps in the literature by examining the extent to which trait mindfulness related to behavioral and neurophysiological (indexed by the stimulus-locked P3) measures of executive attention. Results revealed that higher trait mindfulness was related to less flanker interference on accuracy and reaction time, consistent with enhanced executive attention. Critically, mediational analyses showed that the P3 accounted for the relationship between trait mindfulness and executive attention performance, elucidating a neural mechanism through which mindfulness enhances executive attention.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374600/

 

Improve Creativity with Cyclic Meditation

Improve Creativity with Cyclic Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.” – Eckhart Tolle

Problem solving most frequently involves logic and reasoning, sometimes along with mathematics. In this case focused attention is the key. The mind wandering off topic interferes with the concentration required for obtaining the solution. But when a solution does not occur and the individual fails to solve the problem a completely different process transpires producing insight. If logic and reason fail, then fanciful and out-of-the box thinking may be needed. In this case mind wandering, taking the thought process away from the failed logical strategy, is superior, often producing a solution in a flash, an “aha” moment. In this case focused attention prevents the individual from seeing an unusual or creative solution. While the mind wandering off topic increases the discursive thinking that is required for obtaining the insightful solution.

 

Perhaps the best method to improve creativity and problem solving is to practice both activating and relaxing mindfulness practices. This occurs in cyclic meditation which involves yoga poses (Activation) and meditative relaxation (calming). It is not known whether cyclic meditation can enhance creative thinking and if so, how it might be affecting brain activity.

 

In today’s Research News article “Association between Cyclic Meditation and Creative Cognition: Optimizing Connectivity between the Frontal and Parietal Lobes.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329224/ ), Shetkar and colleagues recruited college students and randomly assigned them to receive 7 daily 35 minute sessions of either cyclic meditation or supine rest (Shavasana). Participants were measured before and after treatment for creative (divergent) thinking. During rest, creativity testing and cyclic meditation the participants had their brain activity measured with an electroencephalograph (EEG).

 

They found that after training in comparison to control participants there was a significant increase (18%) in creativity in the cyclic meditation group including large increases in fluency, originality, elaboration, and flexibility. They also found that brain activity in the gamma frequency bands (high frequency, 25 to 100 cycles per second) of the EEG increased in the frontal and parietal lobes after cyclic meditation practice with indications of increased connectivity between these lobes. The frontal lobes have long been associated with higher level thinking including creative thought.

 

These are very interesting results. Cyclic meditation is different from relaxation in its use of yoga postures and guided meditation. It remains for future research to determine which of these components or both are necessary and sufficient for producing the improvements in creativity. The findings suggest that engaging in cyclic meditation enhances activity in the areas of the brain that are responsible for higher level cognitive functions and as a result enhances creative thinking. It also remains for future research to determine if these effects are lasting or are only present in the immediate aftermath of training.

 

So, improve creativity with cyclic meditation.

 

A state of conscious awareness resulting from living in the moment is not sufficient for creativity to come about. To be creative, you need to have, or be trained in, the ability to observe, notice, and attend to phenomena that pass your mind’s eye.” – Matthijs Baas

 

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

 

Shetkar, R. M., Hankey, A., Nagendra, H. R., & Pradhan, B. (2019). Association between Cyclic Meditation and Creative Cognition: Optimizing Connectivity between the Frontal and Parietal Lobes. International journal of yoga, 12(1), 29-36.

 

Abstract

Background:

Important stages of creativity include preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Earlier studies have reported that some techniques of meditation promote creativity but have not specified which stage is enhanced. Here, we report the influence of cyclic meditation (CM) on creative cognition measured by a divergent thinking task. Our aim was to determine the degree of association between the two.

Methods:

Twenty-four university students were randomly assigned to an experimental group (CM) and controls (Supine Rest), 35 min/day for 7 days. Creativity performance was assessed pre and post using Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults (ATTA), while 64-channel electroencephalography (EEG) was used to measure brain activity during both CM/SH and the creativity test.

Results:

Results indicated that CM training improved creativity performance, producing a shift to predominant gamma activity during creativity compared controls who showed delta activity. Furthermore, the experimental group showed more activation of frontal and parietal regions (EEG leads F3, F4 and P3, P4) than controls, i.e., the regions of the executive network responsible for creative cognition, our particular regions of interest where specialized knowledge is being stored.

Conclusion:

Improvement on creativity test performance indicates that CM increases association and strengthens the connectivity between frontal and parietal lobes, the major nodes of default mode network and executive attention network, enhancing the important stages of creativity such as preparation, incubation, and illumination.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6329224/

 

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/