Neuroscience and mindfulness meditation

Tang, Y.-Y., & Leve, L. D. (2016). A translational neuroscience perspective on mindfulness meditation as a prevention strategy. Translational Behavioral Medicine, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 63–72. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13142-015-0360-x. Full text.

See also: MacKinnon, M. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness: How the default mode network helps explain the benefit of a deep breath. Psychology Today. Full text.

Mindfulness meditation research mainly focuses on psychological outcomes such as behavioral, cognitive, and emotional functioning. However, the neuroscience literature on mindfulness meditation has grown in recent years.

This paper provides an overview of relevant neuroscience and psychological research on the effects of mindfulness meditation. We propose a translational* prevention framework of mindfulness and its effects. Drawing upon the principles of prevention science, this framework integrates neuroscience and prevention research and postulates underlying brain regulatory mechanisms that explain the impact of mindfulness on psychological outcomes via self-regulation mechanisms linked to underlying brain systems.

We conclude by discussing potential clinical and practice implications of this model and directions for future research.


* “The term translational medicine was introduced in the 1990s but only gained wide usage in the early 2000s. Its definition varies according to the stakeholder. Patients, physicians, and other practitioners tend to use the term to refer to the need to accelerate the incorporation of benefits of research into clinical medicine and to close the gap between “what we know” and “what we practice.” Academics tend to interpret translational medicine as the testing of novel concepts from basic research in clinical situations, which in turn provide opportunity for the identification of new concepts. In industry it is used in reference to a process that is aimed at expediting the development and commercialization of known therapies. Although different, these interpretations are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they reflect different priorities for achieving a common goal.” (https://www.britannica.com/science/translational-medicine

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Mindfulness meditation and the perception of beauty

Langer, Alvaro I., Carlos Schmidt, and Edwin Kroghet. „Mindfulness Meditation and the Perception of Beauty: Implications for an Ecological Well-Being.” In: Perception of Beauty, Martha Peaslee Levine, ed., InTechOpen, 2017, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.69529. Full access to this chapter.

Abstract. Meditation is a first-person method for contemplating ourselves and the world, with more than 2500 years of history, rooted in the philosophical and contemplative traditions of the east. The present chapter aims to explore this worldview in order to demonstrate its relevance to our capacity for the appreciation of beauty. To this end, the aesthetic experience, the contemplative experience and their relationship with the practice of mindfulness are analysed.

We suggest that the contemplative meditative experience bestows a state of consciousness and acceptance of life which places the practitioner in a progressive encounter with a self-concept that begins to detach from a static sense of the self and from the categories that define it, so that it may be experienced as an ongoing mental event, removed from cultural ideals of beauty or positivity.

The result of this de-identification from the static self is a greater degree of psychological flexibility and a more genuine way of seeing the world, leading to a new perception of the self that is connected to an experience of freedom, and contributes to one’s own well-being, as well as to that of others and of the environment.

Mindfulness-based intervention and happiness

Malboeuf-Hurtubise, Catherine, et al. “The Impact of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Happiness: A Reflection on the Relevance of Integrating a Positive Psychology Framework within Mindfulness Research in Youth.” International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 2017, pp. 1-15. Full text.

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are increasingly implemented in school settings to alleviate psychological distress in elementary and high school students. Recently, authors have brought forward the fact that the focus and aims of MBIs in clinical settings are largely placed on reducing negative variables and symptoms associated to mental health disorders. Thus, these may not allow us to fully understand how and in which contexts MBIs can be useful in adult populations. As MBIs aim to help people bring focus to the present moment and awareness to all aspects of experience, both the positive and the negative, it appears relevant to study their potential to improve on positive variables, such as happiness.

This paper aims to engage in a reflection on the relevance of incorporating a positive psychology framework within MBI research in youth. Specifically, the importance of measuring the impact of MBIs on positive variables such as happiness are discussed.

Potential antitode to stress-induced eating

Masih, Tasmiah, et al. “Stress-induced eating and the relaxation response as a potential antidote: A review and hypothesis.” Appetite, online 5 Aug 2017. 

Abstract. There is an accumulating body of evidence to indicate that stress leads to the consumption of unhealthy, energy-dense, palatable food, potentially contributing to the alarming global prevalence of chronic diseases, including obesity. However, comparatively little research has been devoted to addressing how best to remedy this growing problem.

We provide an overview of the influence of stress on dietary intake, and then explore the novel, yet simple, possibility that regular elicitation of the relaxation response may effectively reduce stress-induced eating via both physiological and psychological pathways. If shown to be effective, the regular practice of relaxation may provide a convenient, cost efficient, patient-centered therapeutic practice to assist in the prevention of unhealthy weight gain and other negative consequences of unhealthy food intake.

Research on spirituality and meditative practices

Kristeller, Jean L., and Kevin D. Jordan. “Spirituality and Meditative Practice: Research Opportunities and Challenges.” Psychological Studies, 20 Mar 2017,  doi:10.1007/s12646-017-0391-0.

Abstract. Meditative practices have a long history in India and have influenced contemporary meditative programs elsewhere in the world. Over the last several decades, the use of meditation as a therapeutic tool has been investigated in regard to physical, emotional and behavioral effects with impressive results. In parallel to this has been a growing interest in research on spirituality, spiritual growth, and therapeutic modalities that incorporate the spiritual dimension of the person.

Ironically, very little research has explored the interface between these two constructs, despite how closely linked they are traditionally. This paper addresses the range of ways in which spirituality and spiritual development might be fruitfully investigated in the context of meditative practice, bringing further understanding to both psychological constructs.

Furthermore, the widely recognized significance of both meditative and spiritual experiences suggests that cross-cultural research may be particularly valuable at identifying factors that engage the universal human capacity of spirituality, and the particular potential for meditative practice in doing so.

Can compassion be defined and measured?

Strauss, C., Taylor, B. L., Gu, J., Kuyken, W., Baer, R., Jones, F., & Cavanagh, K. (2016). What is Compassion and How Can We Measure it? A Review of Definitions and Measures. Clinical Psychology Review. Full draft ahead of inclusion in an issue.

Highlights

  • Compassion is recognized as important across many sectors of society.
  • There is lack of consensus on definition and few self/observer-rated measures exist.
  • Five elements of compassion are proposed after consolidating existing definitions.
  • The psychometric properties of existing measures are poor, limiting their utility.
  • A new measure of compassion with robust psychometric properties is needed.

Mindfulness in intimate relationships (MSIR)

Kocsis, A. & Newbury-Helps, J. (2016). Mindfulness in Sex Therapy and Intimate Relationships (MSIR): Clinical Protocol and Theory Development. Mindfulness, p. 1-10. First online 05 April 2016.

From the Abstract: Mindfulness has been used as an intervention for specific sexual dysfunctions in women; evidence has also accumulated for the role of mindfulness in treating the kinds of psychological difficulties which are associated with sexual dysfunction. This paper describes, within a clinical context, a qualitative approach to protocol and theory development for a mindfulness-based sex and intimate relationship (MSIR) programme as a generic adjunct to sex therapy. The aim was to adapt the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) group protocol to address diverse sexual and intimacy difficulties.