Mindfulness meditation (MM) is a process of developing non judgmental awareness of internal thoughts and feelings. MM is associated with improved cognition and affect in brain and behavior outcomes, but little is known regarding the nature or extent of these relationships. This dissertation is the first investigation into how MM may be related to both affect and cognitive control broadly, with the more narrow aim of characterizing the association between MM expertise (MME) and responses to specific types of affective provocations in behavior and brain outcomes. Three specific goals were to (1) determine if MME is associated with differences in relatively automatic processing of emotionally evocative stimuli, (2) examine whether MME predicts greater activity in brain regions supporting emotion and cognitive control in response to an affective provocation in a social context, and (3) assess whether MME is associated with distinct patterns of brain activity while viewing aversive images. In a between-groups, cross-sectional design, participants were expert meditators (1000 or more hours of practice, completion of at least 1 extended retreat, and regular practice at least 3 times per week) and control subjects matched for age, gender, and education. In study 1 (n = 36 meditators, 45 controls), I predicted and found that meditators showed better performance on an attentional blink task in which negatively valenced distractor images typically impair performance. In study 2 (n = 18 meditators, 12 controls), I predicted and found that MME was related to greater activity in the insula and anterior cingulate—brain regions that subserve emotion and cognitive control—during emotional provocation in a social decision-making task. Finally, in study 3 (n = 18 meditators, 12 controls) I predicted that meditators would show greater neural activation in regions associated with emotion regulation when viewing aversive images; however, this hypothesis was not supported. Results from these cross-sectional studies indicate that experience with MM is associated with distinct reactions to emotional provocations in attention and social decision-making tasks, and have implications for understanding the relationship between MM and emotion regulation.
|Advisor:||Gray, Jeremy R.|
|School Location:||United States -- Connecticut|
|Source:||DAI-B 69/06, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Psychobiology, Cognitive therapy|
|Keywords:||Brain, Cognitive control, Emotion, Emotion regulation, Meditation, Mindfulness, Mindfulness meditation, fMRI|
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