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Altered processing of self-related emotional stimuli in mindfulness meditators


Lutz, J; Brühl, A B; Doerig, Nadja; Scheerer, H; Achermann, R; Weibel, A; Jäncke, Lutz; Herwig, U (2016). Altered processing of self-related emotional stimuli in mindfulness meditators. NeuroImage, 124(Pt A):958-967.

Abstract

Mental health benefits of mindfulness techniques are thought to involve changes in self-processing, such as decreased attachment to the self, higher self-compassion and lower emotional reactivity to inner experience. However, self-related emotion processing in regular mindfulness practitioners is not extensively studied. In the current work we investigate differential neural and behavioral correlates of self-criticism and self-praise in 22 mid-to-long-term mindfulness meditators (LTM) compared to 22 matched meditation-naïve participants (MNP). In an fMRI experiment, participants were presented with blocks of individually selected positive (self-praise, SP), negative (self-critical, SC), negative but not-self-critical (NNSC), and general, neutral (NT) adjectives, and reported their affective state after the blocks. On the neural level, both SP and SC yielded more activation in the dorso-medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) in LTM compared to MNP. Activation in this region correlated positively with non-react scores of the Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and showed decreased functional connectivity to posterior midline and parietal regions in LTM compared to MNP during both self-related appraisals. Further, we found evidence for emotional reactivity in LTM on the neural level, particularly during SP. On the behavioral level, a mixed effects analysis revealed significantly higher differences in affective ratings after blocks of SC compared to SP in MNP compared to LTM. Differences in DMPFC activation and affective ratings point towards increased awareness, potentially mindful regulation of SC and SP in LTM, while decreased connectivity to other regions of the default mode network could reflect a decreased self-focus in this group. As such, our results illustrate differences in self-related emotional processes in meditators and offer clinically relevant insights into mechanisms of mindful emotion regulation when facing self-criticism and self-praise.

Abstract

Mental health benefits of mindfulness techniques are thought to involve changes in self-processing, such as decreased attachment to the self, higher self-compassion and lower emotional reactivity to inner experience. However, self-related emotion processing in regular mindfulness practitioners is not extensively studied. In the current work we investigate differential neural and behavioral correlates of self-criticism and self-praise in 22 mid-to-long-term mindfulness meditators (LTM) compared to 22 matched meditation-naïve participants (MNP). In an fMRI experiment, participants were presented with blocks of individually selected positive (self-praise, SP), negative (self-critical, SC), negative but not-self-critical (NNSC), and general, neutral (NT) adjectives, and reported their affective state after the blocks. On the neural level, both SP and SC yielded more activation in the dorso-medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) in LTM compared to MNP. Activation in this region correlated positively with non-react scores of the Five Facets Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) and showed decreased functional connectivity to posterior midline and parietal regions in LTM compared to MNP during both self-related appraisals. Further, we found evidence for emotional reactivity in LTM on the neural level, particularly during SP. On the behavioral level, a mixed effects analysis revealed significantly higher differences in affective ratings after blocks of SC compared to SP in MNP compared to LTM. Differences in DMPFC activation and affective ratings point towards increased awareness, potentially mindful regulation of SC and SP in LTM, while decreased connectivity to other regions of the default mode network could reflect a decreased self-focus in this group. As such, our results illustrate differences in self-related emotional processes in meditators and offer clinically relevant insights into mechanisms of mindful emotion regulation when facing self-criticism and self-praise.

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6 citations in Web of Science®
5 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Date:2016
Deposited On:04 Nov 2015 15:37
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 14:46
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:1053-8119
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.09.057
PubMed ID:26455808

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