Mindfulness and race-related attitudes and behaviour
Research has demonstrated that social behavior is often influenced by automatic (i.e., spontaneous) evaluations of the target individual rather than by reasoned beliefs. Implicit measures of automatic race attitudes have been shown to predict a number of discriminatory behaviors toward minorities, including friendliness, use of ethnic slurs, and medical decisions. Both theory and research suggest that mindfulness may decouple the relation between impulses and actual behavior. This study examined whether mindfulness training would reduce the relation between an implicit measure of race attitude and interracial behavior. Although race attitudes may become automatized through years of social learning, this study shows that mindfulness training can help to delink the relation between such automatic attitudes and race-related behavior.
The neural correlates of pain modulation through mindfulness
Pain can be modulated by several cognitive techniques, typically involving increased cognitive control and decreased sensory processing. Recently, it has been demonstrated that pain can also be attenuated by mindfulness. Here, we investigate the underlying brain mechanisms by which the state of mindfulness reduces pain. Mindfulness practitioners and controls received unpleasant electric stimuli in the functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner during a mindfulness and a control condition. Mindfulness practitioners, but not controls, were able to reduce pain unpleasantness by 22% and anticipatory anxiety by 29% during a mindful state. In the brain, this reduction was associated with decreased activation in the lateral prefrontal cortex and increased activation in the right posterior insula during stimulation and increased rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation during the anticipation of pain. These findings reveal a unique mechanism of pain modulation, comprising increased sensory processing and decreased cognitive control, and are in sharp contrast to established pain modulation mechanisms.
Medication, cognitive therapy, and mindfulness: neural and functional correlates
The action mechanism of antidepressant medication (ADM) and cognitive therapy (CT) has been related to circuits dealing with emotion-regulation in prefrontal and subcortical areas associated with the downregulation of negative affect. Mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) on the other hand, may engage a distinct action mechanism as it has been claimed that through mindfulness patients become able to regulate affect without altering the emotional valence of present moment experience. Recently, the number of studies investigating the neural mechanism of MBIs has seen a rapid rise, allowing for a preliminary verification of this assumption. Evidence for a distinct mechanism of action, may have important implications for the application of MBIs in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. The putative action mechanisms of ADM and CT and also of the neural mechanisms of MBIs will be reviewed and compared. These preliminary findings on MBIs form a welcome supplement to our understanding of the neural mechanisms involved in this intervention and those of the current therapies. The talk concludes with suggestions for further research.
Marieke van Vugt
Modelling cognitive processes underlying meditation and its effects on cognition
An increasing number of studies show that meditation practice affects cognitive functions such as attention and working memory. At the same time, there is no detailed cognitive theory of what meditation is and how it exerts its salutary effects. In collaboration with both Buddhist scholars and cognitive modelers, I developed a model of meditation implemented in the ACT-R cognitive architecture. This cognitive architecture is a formalization of theories of cognition that can be simulated on a computer. Moreover, it has recently been expanded to account for and analyze transfer between cognitive tasks. This makes it a very interesting candidate for investigating how meditation affects performance on cognitive tasks such as the attentional blink or free recall. My cognitive model of meditation is centered around the ideas of
(1) becoming distracted through a failure of checking where attention is, and
(2) returning to the object of attention through retrieving the intention to meditate from memory.
Training these mechanisms should have specific consequences for performance on other tasks. I use the model to fit data from a mind wandering task. I argue that this modeling approach will provide a solid theoretical basis for making novel predictions about the effects of different types of meditation on cognition.