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Three studies illustrate that mindful attention prevents impulses toward attractive food. Participants received a brief mindfulness procedure in which they observed their reactions to external stimuli as transient mental events rather than subjectively real experiences. Participants then applied this procedure to viewing pictures of highly attractive and neutral food items. Finally, reactions to food stimuli were assessed with an implicit approach-avoidance task. Across experiments, spontaneous approach reactions elicited by attractive food were fully eliminated in the mindful attention condition compared to the control condition, in which participants viewed the same items without mindful attention. These effects were maintained over a 5-minute distraction period. Our findings suggest that mindful attention to one’s own mental experiences helps to control impulsive responses and thus suggest mindfulness as a potentially powerful method for facilitating self-regulation.
Increasing research indicates that concepts are represented as distributed circuits of property information across the brain's modality-specific areas. The current study examines the distributed representation of an important but under-explored category, foods. Participants viewed pictures of appetizing foods (along with pictures of locations for comparison) during event-related fMRI. Compared to location pictures, food pictures activated the right insula/operculum and the left orbitofrontal cortex, both gustatory processing areas. Food pictures also activated regions of visual cortex that represent object shape. Together these areas contribute to a distributed neural circuit that represents food knowledge. Not only does this circuit become active during the tasting of actual foods, it also becomes active while viewing food pictures. Via the process of pattern completion, food pictures activate gustatory regions of the circuit to produce conceptual inferences about taste. Consistent with theories that ground knowledge in the modalities, these inferences arise as reenactments of modality-specific processing.
BACKGROUND: Excessive behavioral inhibition during childhood marks anxious temperament and is a risk factor for the development of anxiety and affective disorders. Studies in nonhuman primates can provide important information related to the expression of this risk factor, since threat-induced freezing in rhesus monkeys is a trait-like characteristic analogous to human behavioral inhibition. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and amygdala are part of a circuit involved in the processing of emotions and associated physiological responses. Earlier work demonstrated involvement of the primate central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) in mediating anxious temperament. This study assessed the role of the primate OFC in mediating anxious temperament and its involvement in fear responses. METHODS: Twelve adolescent rhesus monkeys were studied (six lesion and six control monkeys). Lesions were targeted at regions of the OFC that are most interconnected with the amygdala. Behavior and physiological parameters were assessed before and after the lesions. RESULTS: The OFC lesions significantly decreased threat-induced freezing and marginally decreased fearful responses to a snake. The lesions also resulted in a leftward shift in frontal brain electrical activity consistent with a reduction in anxiety. The lesions did not significantly decrease hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentrations of corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate a role for the OFC in mediating anxious temperament and fear-related responses in adolescent primates. Because of the similarities between rhesus monkey threat-induced freezing and childhood behavioral inhibition, these findings are relevant to understanding mechanisms underlying anxious temperament in humans.