Mindfulness is Associated in Improved Emotion Regulation with Mothers
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“With [Mindfulness Meditation] training or practice . . we become more able to allow disturbing emotions and thoughts to pass through awareness. We develop the ability to NOT act or react to every emotion or thought we have.” – Timothy Pychyl
There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It has been shown to improve emotions and their regulation. Practitioners demonstrate more positive and less negative emotions and the ability to fully sense and experience emotions, while responding to them in 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.
One way that meditation 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 appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.
The majority of studies examining brain responses to emotional stimuli employ relatively artificial materials such as emotion laden pictures of scenes independent of the participant’s actual environment and are not related to the actual experiences of the participants. It is important to investigate how mindfulness affects the individual’s emotions and the brains responses to emotional stimuli related to the everyday experiences of the individual.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-related differences in neural response to own infant negative versus positive emotion contexts.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6969079/), Laurent and colleagues recruited mothers of 3-month old infants. The had them complete a measure of mindfulness that included observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-reacting, and non-judging facets. They collected videos of the mothers engaged with peekaboo with their infants (positive emotions) and holding the infant’s arms to their sides (negative emotions) and presented them while the mothers underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of their brains.
They found that the mothers’ showed greater activation of the brain in general to the positive (peekaboo) own-infant video than to the negative (arm restraint video). Of the facets of mindfulness, mother who were high in nonreactivity and non-judging had greater brain activations to the own-infant peekaboo video than the arm restraint video. These activations occurred in widespread areas of their brains.
These results are interesting and suggest that mothers who are mindful, especially with nonreactivity and non-judging, have greater brain activation to seeing positive own-infant scenes than to negative own-infant scenes. This suggests that mindfulness is related to increased responses to emotionally positive events in their real environments than to emotionally negative events. This may explain the improved moods of mindful people. Their brains are tuned to positivity.
So, mindfulness is associated in improved emotion regulation with mothers.
“The appearance of things change according to the emotions and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.” – Kahlil Gibran
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Laurent, H. K., Wright, D., & Finnegan, M. (2018). Mindfulness-related differences in neural response to own infant negative versus positive emotion contexts. Developmental cognitive neuroscience, 30, 70–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2018.01.002
Mindfulness is thought to promote well-being by shaping the way people respond to challenging social-emotional situations. Current understanding of how this occurs at the neural level is based on studies of response to decontextualized emotion stimuli that may not adequately represent lived experiences. In this study, we tested relations between mothers’ dispositional mindfulness and neural responses to their own infant in different emotion-eliciting contexts. Mothers (n = 25) engaged with their 3-month-old infants in videorecorded tasks designed to elicit negative (arm restraint) or positive (peekaboo) emotion. During a functional MRI session, mothers were presented with 15-s clips from these recordings, and dispositional mindfulness scores were used to predict their neural responses to arm restraint > peekaboo videos. Mothers higher in nonreactivity showed relatively lower activation to their infants’ arm restraint compared to peekaboo videos in hypothesized regions—insula and dorsal prefrontal cortex—as well as non-hypothesized regions. Other mindfulness dimensions were associated with more limited areas of lower (nonjudgment) and higher (describing) activation in this contrast. Mothers who were higher in mindfulness generally activated more to the positive emotion context and less to the negative emotion context in perceptual and emotion processing areas, a pattern that may help to explain mindfulness-related differences in well-being.