In light of a growing interest in contemplative practices such as meditation, the emerging field of contemplative science has been challenged to describe and objectively measure how these practices affect health and well-being. While “mindfulness” itself has been proposed as a measurable outcome of contemplative practices, this concept encompasses multiple components, some of which, as we review here, may be better characterized as equanimity. Equanimity can be defined as an even-minded mental state or dispositional tendency toward all experiences or objects, regardless of their origin or their affective valence (pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral). In this article, we propose that equanimity be used as an outcome measure in contemplative research. We first define and discuss the inter-relationship between mindfulness and equanimity from the perspectives of both classical Buddhism and modern psychology and present existing meditation techniques for cultivating equanimity. We then review psychological, physiological, and neuroimaging methods that have been used to assess equanimity either directly or indirectly. In conclusion, we propose that equanimity captures potentially the most important psychological element in the improvement of well-being, and therefore should be a focus in future research studies.
In 2 daily experience studies and a laboratory study, the authors test predictions from approach-avoidance motivational theory to understand how dating couples can maintain feelings of relationship satisfaction in their daily lives and over the course of time. Approach goals were associated with increased relationship satisfaction on a daily basis and over time, particularly when both partners were high in approach goals. Avoidance goals were associated with decreases in relationship satisfaction over time, and people were particularly dissatisfied when they were involved with a partner with high avoidance goals. People high in approach goals and their partners were rated as relatively more satisfied and responsive to a partner's needs by outside observers in the lab, whereas people with high avoidance goals and their partners were rated as less satisfied and responsive. Positive emotions mediated the link between approach goals and daily satisfaction in both studies, and responsiveness to the partner's needs was an additional behavioral mechanism in Study 2. Implications of these findings for approach-avoidance motivational theory and for the maintenance of satisfying relationships over time are discussed.
Many studies in humans suggest that altered temporal lobe functioning, especially functioning in the right temporal lobe, is involved in mystical and religious experiences. We investigated temporal lobe functioning in individuals who reported having transcendental "near-death experiences" during life-threatening events. These individuals were found to have more temporal lobe epileptiform electroencephalographic activity than control subjects and also reported significantly more temporal lobe epileptic symptoms. Contrary to predictions, epileptiform activity was nearly completely lateralized to the left hemisphere. The near-death experience was not associated with dysfunctional stress reactions such as dissociation, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse, but rather was associated with positive coping styles. Additional analyses revealed that near-death experiencers had altered sleep patterns, specifically, a shorter duration of sleep and delayed REM sleep relative to the control group. These results suggest that altered temporal lobe functioning may be involved in the near-death experience and that individuals who have had such experiences are physiologically distinct from the general population.
Meditation refers to a family of mental training practices that are designed to familiarize the practitioner with specific types of mental processes. One of the most basic forms of meditation is concentration meditation, in which sustained attention is focused on an object such as a small visual stimulus or the breath. In age-matched participants, using functional MRI, we found that activation in a network of brain regions typically involved in sustained attention showed an inverted u-shaped curve in which expert meditators (EMs) with an average of 19,000 h of practice had more activation than novices, but EMs with an average of 44,000 h had less activation. In response to distracter sounds used to probe the meditation, EMs vs. novices had less brain activation in regions related to discursive thoughts and emotions and more activation in regions related to response inhibition and attention. Correlation with hours of practice suggests possible plasticity in these mechanisms.
OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to probe the neural circuitry associated with reactivity to negative and positive affective stimuli in patients with major depressive disorder before treatment and after 2 and 8 weeks of treatment with venlafaxine. Relations between baseline neural activation and response to treatment were also evaluated. METHOD: Patients with major depressive disorder (N=12) and healthy comparison subjects (N=5) were scanned on three occasions, during which trials of alternating blocks of affective and neutral pictorial visual stimuli were presented. Symptoms were evaluated at each testing occasion, and both groups completed self-report measures of mood. Statistical parametric mapping was used to examine the fMRI data with a focus on the group-by-time interactions. RESULTS: Patients showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms with treatment. Group-by-time interactions in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli were found in the left insular cortex and the left anterior cingulate. At baseline, both groups showed bilateral activation in the visual cortices, lateral prefrontal cortex, and amygdala in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli, with patients showing greater activation in the visual cortex and less activation in the left lateral prefrontal cortex. Patients with greater relative anterior cingulate activation at baseline in response to the negative versus neutral stimuli showed the most robust treatment response. CONCLUSIONS: The findings underscore the importance of the neural circuitry activated by negative affect in depression and indicate that components of this circuitry can be changed within 2 weeks of treatment with antidepressant medication.
OBJECTIVE: Positron emission tomography was used to investigate the neural substrates of normal human emotional and their dependence on the types of emotional stimulus. METHOD: Twelve healthy female subjects underwent 12 measurements of regional brain activity following the intravenous bolus administration of [15O]H2O as they alternated between emotion-generating and control film and recall tasks. Automated image analysis techniques were used to characterize and compare the increases in regional brain activity associated with the emotional response to complex visual (film) and cognitive (recall) stimuli. RESULTS: Film- and recall-generated emotion were each associated with significantly increased activity in the vicinity of the medial prefrontal cortex and thalamus, suggesting that these regions participate in aspects of emotion that do not depend on the nature of the emotional stimulus. Film-generated emotion was associated with significantly greater increases in activity bilaterally in the occipitotemporparietal cortex, lateral cerebellum, hypothalamus, and a region that includes the anterior temporal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampal formation, suggesting that these regions participate in the emotional response to certain exteroceptive sensory stimuli. Recall-generated sadness was associated with significantly greater increases in activity in the vicinity of the anterior insular cortex, suggesting that this region participates in the emotional response to potentially distressing cognitive or interoceptive sensory stimuli. CONCLUSIONS: While this study should be considered preliminary, it identified brain regions that participate in externally and internally generated human emotion.
Substantial evidence suggests that a key distinction in the classification of human emotion is that between an appetitive motivational system association with positive or pleasant emotion and an aversive motivational system associated with negative or unpleasant emotion. To explore the neural substrates of these two systems, 12 healthy women viewed sets of pictures previously demonstrated to elicit pleasant, unpleasant and neutral emotion, while positron emission tomographic (PET) measurements of regional cerebral blood flow were obtained. Pleasant and unpleasant emotions were each distinguished from neutral emotion conditions by significantly increased cerebral blood flow in the vicinity of the medial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann's area 9), thalamus, hypothalamus and midbrain (P < 0.005). Unpleasant was distinguished from neutral or pleasant emotion by activation of the bilateral occipito-temporal cortex and cerebellum, and left parahippocampal gyrus, hippocampus and amygdala (P < 0.005). Pleasant was also distinguished from neutral but not unpleasant emotion by activation of the head of the left caudate nucleus (P < 0.005). These findings are consistent with those from other recent PET studies of human emotion and demonstrate that there are both common and unique components of the neural networks mediating pleasant and unpleasant emotion in healthy women.
Parenting preschoolers can be a challenging endeavor. Yet anecdotal observations indicate that parents who are more mindful may have greater ease in contending with the emotional demands of parenting than parents who are less mindful. Therefore, we hypothesized that parenting effort, defined as the energy involved in deciding on the most effective way to respond to a preschooler, would be negatively associated with mothers’ mindfulness. In this study, a new parenting effort scale and an established mindfulness scale were distributed to 50 mothers of preschoolers. Using exploratory factor analysis, the factor structure of the new parenting effort scale was examined and the scale was refined. Bivariate correlations were then conducted on this new Parenting Effort—Preschool scale and the established mindfulness scale. Results confirmed the hypothesis that a negative correlation exists between these two variables. Implications are that mindfulness practices may have the potential to alleviate some of the challenges of parenting preschoolers.
The purpose of this study was to examine pathways in a model which proposed associations among parent mindfulness, parent depressive symptoms, two types of parenting, and child problem behavior. Participants' data were from the baseline assessment of a NIMH-sponsored family-group cognitive-behavioral intervention program for the prevention of child and adolescent depression (Compas et al., 2009). Participants consisted of 145 mothers and 17 fathers (mean age = 41.89 yrs, SD = 7.73) with a history of depression and 211 children (106 males) (mean age = 11.49 yrs, SD = 2.00). Analyses showed that (a) positive parenting appears to play a significant role in helping explain how parent depressive symptoms relate to child externalizing problems and (b) mindfulness is related to child internalizing and externalizing problems; however, the intervening constructs examined did not appear to help explain the mindfulness-child problem behavior associations. Suggestions for future research on parent mindfulness and child problem outcome are described.
Neuroimage phenotyping for psychiatric and neurological disorders is performed using voxelwise analyses also known as voxel based analyses or morphometry (VBM). A typical voxelwise analysis treats measurements at each voxel (e.g., fractional anisotropy, gray matter probability) as outcome measures to study the effects of possible explanatory variables (e.g., age, group) in a linear regression setting. Furthermore, each voxel is treated independently until the stage of correction for multiple comparisons. Recently, multi-voxel pattern analyses (MVPA), such as classification, have arisen as an alternative to VBM. The main advantage of MVPA over VBM is that the former employ multivariate methods which can account for interactions among voxels in identifying significant patterns. They also provide ways for computer-aided diagnosis and prognosis at individual subject level. However, compared to VBM, the results of MVPA are often more difficult to interpret and prone to arbitrary conclusions. In this paper, first we use penalized likelihood modeling to provide a unified framework for understanding both VBM and MVPA. We then utilize statistical learning theory to provide practical methods for interpreting the results of MVPA beyond commonly used performance metrics, such as leave-one-out-cross validation accuracy and area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve. Additionally, we demonstrate that there are challenges in MVPA when trying to obtain image phenotyping information in the form of statistical parametric maps (SPMs), which are commonly obtained from VBM, and provide a bootstrap strategy as a potential solution for generating SPMs using MVPA. This technique also allows us to maximize the use of available training data. We illustrate the empirical performance of the proposed framework using two different neuroimaging studies that pose different levels of challenge for classification using MVPA.
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.
OBJECTIVES: To examine whether mindfulness meditation (MM) was associated with changes in objectively measured polysomnographic (PSG) sleep profiles and to relate changes in PSG sleep to subjectively reported changes in sleep and depression within the context of a randomized controlled trial. Previous studies have indicated that mindfulness and other forms of meditation training are associated with improvements in sleep quality. However, none of these studies used objective PSG sleep recordings within longitudinal randomized controlled trials of naïve subjects. METHODS: Twenty-six individuals with partially remitted depression were randomized into an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course or a waitlist control condition. Pre-post measurements included PSG sleep studies and subjectively reported sleep and depression symptoms. RESULTS: According to PSG sleep, MM practice was associated with several indices of increased cortical arousal, including more awakenings and stage 1 sleep and less slow-wave sleep relative to controls, in proportion to amount of MM practice. According to sleep diaries, subjectively reported sleep improved post MBCT but not above and beyond controls. Beck Depression Inventory scores decreased more in the MBCT group than controls. Improvements in depression were associated with increased subjective sleep continuity and increased PSG arousal. CONCLUSIONS: MM is associated with increases in objectively measured arousal during sleep with simultaneous improvements in subjectively reported sleep quality and mood disturbance. This pattern is similar to the profiles of positive responders to common antidepressant medications.
The aim of this article is to investigate how a contemplative orientation to teaching may facilitate wholeness for teachers and students through a portrait of Diana, a kindergarten teacher working in a contemplative elementary school. The portrait, one of three portraits from a larger study, illustrates three central features of contemplative teaching: compassion, integrity, and mindful awareness. These three central features develop internally within individual teachers and are animated and influenced externally through their role as teachers. The context of their teaching, relationships with students, parents, and colleagues, and pedagogical choices, in turn influence the three central features. The emphasis on wholeness, unity, and integration of a contemplative orientation to teaching moves us toward a view of teachers and students as beings with not only minds and heads but also hearts and bodies. Contemplative teaching offers educational communities a path toward transformational, holistic, and integrative learning and teaching.
The authors propose a model of the prosocial classroom that highlights the importance of teachers’ social and emotional competence (SEC) and well-being in the development and maintenance of supportive teacher–student relationships, effective classroom management, and successful social and emotional learning program implementation. This model proposes that these factors contribute to creating a classroom climate that is more conducive to learning and that promotes positive developmental outcomes among students. Furthermore, this article reviews current research suggesting a relationship between SEC and teacher burnout and reviews intervention efforts to support teachers’ SEC through stress reduction and mindfulness programs. Finally, the authors propose a research agenda to address the potential efficacy of intervention strategies designed to promote teacher SEC and improved learning outcomes for students.
<p>BACKGROUND: Increasingly, researchers attend to both positive and negative aspects of mental health. Such distinctions call for clarification of whether psychological well-being and ill-being comprise opposite ends of a bipolar continuum, or are best construed as separate, independent dimensions of mental health. Biology can help resolve this query--bipolarity predicts 'mirrored' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being correlate similarly with biomarkers, but show opposite directional signs), whereas independence predicts 'distinct' biological correlates (i.e. well-being and ill-being have different biological signatures). METHODS: Multiple aspects of psychological well-being (eudaimonic, hedonic) and ill-being (depression, anxiety, anger) were assessed in a sample of aging women (n = 135, mean age = 74) on whom diverse neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, DHEA-S) and cardiovascular factors (weight, waist-hip ratio, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total/HDL cholesterol, glycosylated hemoglobin) were also measured. RESULTS: Measures of psychological well-being and ill-being were significantly linked with numerous biomarkers, with some associations being more strongly evident for respondents aged 75+. Outcomes for seven biomarkers supported the distinct hypothesis, while findings for only two biomarkers supported the mirrored hypothesis. CONCLUSION: This research adds to the growing literature on how psychological well-being and mental maladjustment are instantiated in biology. Population-based inquiries and challenge studies constitute important future directions.</p>
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children (MBCT-C) is a manualized group psychotherapy for children ages 9–13 years old, which was developed specifically to increase social-emotional resiliency through the enhancement of mindful attention. Program development is described along with results of the initial randomized controlled trial. We tested the hypotheses that children randomized to participate in MBCT-C would show greater reductions in (a) attention problems, (b) anxiety symptoms, and (c) behavior problems than wait-listed age and gender-matched controls. Participants were boys and girls aged 9–13 (N = 25), mostly from low-income, inner-city households. Twenty-one of 25 children were ethnic minorities. A randomized cross-lagged design provided a wait-listed control group, a second trial of MBCT-C, and a 3-month follow-up of children who completed the first trial. Measures included the Child Behavior Checklist, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory for Children, and Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children. Participants who completed the program showed fewer attention problems than wait-listed controls and those improvements were maintained at three months following the intervention [F (1, 1, 18) = 5.965, p = .025, Cohen’s d = .42]. A strong relationship was found between attention problems and behavior problems (r = .678, p < .01). Reductions in attention problems accounted for 46% of the variance of changes in behavior problems, although attention changes proved to be a non-significant mediator of behavior problems (p = .053). Significant reductions in anxiety symptoms and behavior problems were found for those children who reported clinically elevated levels of anxiety at pretest (n = 6). Results show that MBCT-C is a promising intervention for attention and behavior problems, and may reduce childhood anxiety symptoms.
BACKGROUND: Anhedonia, a reduced ability to experience pleasure, is a chief symptom of major depressive disorder and is related to reduced frontostriatal connectivity when attempting to upregulate positive emotion. The present study examined another facet of positive emotion regulation associated with anhedonia-namely, the downregulation of positive affect-and its relation to prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity. METHODS: Neuroimaging data were collected from 27 individuals meeting criteria for major depressive disorder as they attempted to suppress positive emotion during a positive emotion regulation task. Their PFC activation pattern was compared with the PFC activation pattern exhibited by 19 healthy control subjects during the same task. Anhedonia scores were collected at three time points: at baseline (time 1), 8 weeks after time 1 (i.e., time 2), and 6 months after time 1 (i.e., time 3). Prefrontal cortex activity at time 1 was used to predict change in anhedonia over time. Analyses were conducted utilizing hierarchical linear modeling software. RESULTS: Depressed individuals who could not inhibit positive emotion-evinced by reduced right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activity during attempts to dampen their experience of positive emotion in response to positive visual stimuli-exhibited a steeper anhedonia reduction slope between baseline and 8 weeks of treatment with antidepressant medication (p < .05). Control subjects showed a similar trend between baseline and time 3. CONCLUSIONS: To reduce anhedonia, it may be necessary to teach individuals how to counteract the functioning of an overactive pleasure-dampening prefrontal inhibitory system.
Introduction School-age children report much stress in their daily lives, which may lead to psychological and physical problems. Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction is a program of awareness-based practices effective with adults. The purpose of this study was to investigate the efficacy of mindfulness training through yoga with school-age girls to reduce perceived stress, enhance coping abilities, self-esteem, and self-regulation, and explore the relationship between the dose of the intervention and outcomes. Method Fourth- and fifth-grade girls were recruited from two public schools and randomly assigned to intervention and wait-list control groups. The intervention group met 1 hour a week for 8 weeks and completed 10 minutes of daily homework. Results Self-esteem and self-regulation increased in both groups. The intervention group was more likely to report greater appraisal of stress (p < .01) and greater frequency of coping (p < .05). Homework accounted for 7% of the variance in reported stress. Discussion Consistent with reports of mindfulness training, greater awareness of the feelings associated with stress may enhance coping abilities. However, it is possible that the increasing awareness of stressors in itself increased stress, possibly as part of the process of developing mindfulness or related to cognitive, emotional, or social development. Mindfulness in children may differ from mindfulness in adults and warrants further investigation.
Baseline resting electroencephalogram (EEG) activity was recorded from 6 normothymic depressives and 8 controls using three different reference montages. Power in all frequency bands was extracted by Fourier transformation. Significant Group X Region X Hemisphere interactions were found consistently for alpha band power only. Previously depressed subjects had less left-sided anterior and less right-sided posterior activation (i.e., more alpha activity) than did never depressed subjects. Previously depressed subjects had no history of pharmacological treatment and did not differ from controls in emotional state at the time of testing. The pattern of anterior and posterior asymmetry in the previously depressed subjects is similar to that found in acutely depressed subjects and suggests that this may be a state-independent marker for depression.
Although once considered disruptive, self-conscious emotions are now theorized to be fundamentally involved in the regulation of social behavior. The present study examined the social regulation function of self-conscious emotions by comparing healthy participants with a neuropsychological population--patients with orbitofrontal lesions--characterized by selective regulatory deficits. Orbitofrontal patients and healthy controls participated in a series of tasks designed to assess their social regulation and self-conscious emotions. Another task assessed the ability to infer others' emotional states, an appraisal process involved in self-conscious emotion. Consistent with the theory that self-conscious emotions are important for regulating social behavior, the findings show that deficient behavioral regulation is associated with inappropriate self-conscious emotions that reinforce maladaptive behavior. Additionally, deficient behavioral regulation is associated with impairments in interpreting the self-conscious emotions of others.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) alpha power has been demonstrated to be inversely related to mental activity and has subsequently been used as an indirect measure of brain activation. The thalamus has been proposed as an important site for modulation of rhythmic alpha activity. Studies in animals have suggested that cortical alpha rhythms are correlated with alpha rhythms in the thalamus. However, little empirical evidence exists for this relation in humans. In the current study, resting EEG and a fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography scan were measured during the same experimental session. Over a 30-min period, average EEG alpha power across 28 electrodes from 27 participants was robustly inversely correlated with glucose metabolic activity in the thalamus. These data provide the first evidence for a relation between alpha EEG power and thalamic activity in humans.
Given the central role of the amygdala in fear perception and expression and its likely abnormality in affective disorders and autism, there is great demand for a technique to measure differences in neurochemistry of the human amygdala. Unfortunately, it is also a technically complex target for magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) due to a small volume, high field inhomogeneity and a shared boundary with hippocampus, which can undergo opposite changes in response to stress. We attempted to achieve reliable PRESS-localized single-voxel MRS at 3T of the isolated human amygdala by using anatomy to guide voxel size and location. We present data from 106 amygdala-MRS sessions from 58 volunteers aged 10 to 52 years, including two tests of one-week stability and a feasibility study in an adolescent sample. Our main outcomes were indices of spectral quality, repeated measurement variability (within- and between-subject standard deviations), and sensitivity to stable individual differences measured by intra-class correlation (ICC). We present metrics of amygdala-MRS reliability for n-acetyl-aspartate, creatine, choline, myo-Inositol, and glutamate+glutamine (Glx). We found that scan quality suffers an age-related difference in field homogeneity and modified our protocol to compensate. We further identified an effect of anatomical inclusion near the endorhinal sulcus, a region of high synaptic density, that contributes up to 29% of within-subject variability across 4 sessions (n=14). Remaining variability in line width but not signal-to-noise also detracts from reliability. Statistical correction for partial inclusion of these strong neurochemical gradients decreases n-acetyl-aspartate reliability from an intraclass correlation of 0.84 to 0.56 for 7-minute acquisitions. This suggests that systematic differences in anatomical inclusion can contribute greatly to apparent neurochemical concentrations and could produce false group differences in experimental studies. Precise, anatomically-based prescriptions that avoid age-related sources of inhomogeneity and use longer scan times may permit study of individual differences in neurochemistry throughout development in this late-maturing structure.
This article assessed whether resting electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry in anterior regions of the brain can predict affective responses to emotion elicitors. Baseline EEG was recorded from 32 female adults, after which Ss viewed film clips preselected to elicit positive or negative affect. Resting alpha power asymmetry in the frontal region significantly predicted self-reported global negative affect in response to clips and predicted the difference between global positive and negative affect. Analyses of discrete emotions revealed a strong relation between frontal asymmetry and fear responses to films. Effects were independent of Ss mood ratings at the time at which baseline EEG was measured. Resting anterior asymmetry may be a state-independent index of the individual's predisposition to respond affectively.