Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Moreover, meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity. Nevertheless, little is known about possible links to brain structure. Using high-resolution MRI data of 44 subjects, we set out to examine the underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation with different regional specificity (i.e., global, regional, and local). For this purpose, we applied voxel-based morphometry in association with a recently validated automated parcellation approach. We detected significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbito-frontal cortex (as well as in the right thalamus and left inferior temporal gyrus when co-varying for age and/or lowering applied statistical thresholds). In addition, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators' singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior. We further suggest that these regional alterations in brain structures constitute part of the underlying neurological correlate of long-term meditation independent of a specific style and practice. Future longitudinal analyses are necessary to establish the presence and direction of a causal link between meditation practice and brain anatomy.
Most of the extant literature investigating the health effects of mindfulness interventions relies on wait-list control comparisons. The current article specifies and validates an active control condition, the Health Enhancement Program (HEP), thus providing the foundation necessary for rigorous investigations of the relative efficacy of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and for testing mindfulness as an active ingredient. 63 participants were randomized to either MBSR (n = 31) or HEP (n = 32). Compared to HEP, MBSR led to reductions in thermal pain ratings in the mindfulness- but not the HEP-related instruction condition (η(2) = .18). There were significant improvements over time for general distress (η(2) = .09), anxiety (η(2) = .08), hostility (η(2) = .07), and medical symptoms (η(2) = .14), but no effects of intervention. Practice was not related to change. HEP is an active control condition for MBSR while remaining inert to mindfulness. These claims are supported by results from a pain task. Participant-reported outcomes (PROs) replicate previous improvements to well-being in MBSR, but indicate that MBSR is no more effective than a rigorous active control in improving these indices. These results emphasize the importance of using an active control condition like HEP in studies evaluating the effectiveness of MBSR.
Recent neuroimaging and neuropsychological work has begun to shed light on how the brain responds to the viewing of facial expressions of emotion. However, one important category of facial expression that has not been studied on this level is the facial expression of pain. We investigated the neural response to pain expressions by performing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as subjects viewed short video sequences showing faces expressing either moderate pain or, for comparison, no pain. In alternate blocks, the same subjects received both painful and non-painful thermal stimulation. Facial expressions of pain were found to engage cortical areas also engaged by the first-hand experience of pain, including anterior cingulate cortex and insula. The reported findings corroborate other work in which the neural response to witnessed pain has been examined from other perspectives. In addition, they lend support to the idea that common neural substrates are involved in representing one's own and others' affective states.
We present a novel weighted Fourier series (WFS) representation for cortical surfaces. The WFS representation is a data smoothing technique that provides the explicit smooth functional estimation of unknown cortical boundary as a linear combination of basis functions. The basic properties of the representation are investigated in connection with a self-adjoint partial differential equation and the traditional spherical harmonic (SPHARM) representation. To reduce steep computational requirements, a new iterative residual fitting (IRF) algorithm is developed. Its computational and numerical implementation issues are discussed in detail. The computer codes are also available at http://www.stat.wisc.edu/-mchung/softwares/weighted.SPHARM/weighted-SPHARM.html. As an illustration, the WFS is applied i n quantifying the amount ofgray matter in a group of high functioning autistic subjects. Within the WFS framework, cortical thickness and gray matter density are computed and compared.
We have developed a low dose Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI-ld) that reduces the time committed to meetings and formal mindfulness practice, while conducting the sessions during the workday. This reduced the barriers commonly mentioned for non-participation in mindfulness programs. In a controlled randomized trial we studied university faculty and staff (n=186) who were found to have an elevated CRP level,>3.0 mg/ml, and who either had, or were at risk for cardiovascular disease. This study was designed to evaluate if MBI-ld could produce a greater decrease in CRP, IL-6 and cortisol than an active control group receiving a lifestyle education program when measured at the end of the 2 month interventions. We found that MBI-ld significantly enhanced mindfulness by 2-months and it was maintained for up to a year when compared to the education control. No significant changes were noted between interventions in cortisol, IL-6 levels or self-reported measures of perceived stress, depression and sleep quality at 2-months. Although not statistically significant (p=.08), the CRP level at 2-months was one mg/ml lower in the MBI-ld group than in the education control group, a change which may have clinical significance (Ridker et al., 2000; Wassel et al., 2010). A larger MBI-ld effect on CRP (as compared to control) occurred among participants who had a baseline BMI <30 (-2.67 mg/ml) than for those with BMI >30 (-0.18 mg/ml). We conclude that MBI-ld should be more fully investigated as a low-cost self-directed complementary strategy for decreasing inflammation, and it seems most promising for non-obese subjects.