Effect on emotional responses to suffering

Rosenberg, E. L., et al. (2015). Intensive Meditation Training Influences Emotional Responses to Suffering. Emotion. In press. Abstract.

Meditation practices purportedly help people develop focused and sustained attention, cultivate feelings of compassionate concern for self and others, and strengthen motivation to help others who are in need.

We examined the impact of 3 months of intensive meditative training on emotional responses to scenes of human suffering. Sixty participants were assigned randomly to either a 3-month intensive meditation retreat or a wait-list control group. Training consisted of daily practice in techniques designed to improve attention and enhance compassionate regard for others. Participants viewed film scenes depicting human suffering at pre- and post-training laboratory assessments, during which both facial and subjective measures of emotion were collected.

At post-assessment, training group participants were more likely than controls to show facial displays of sadness. Trainees also showed fewer facial displays of rejection emotions (anger, contempt, disgust). The groups did not differ on the likelihood or frequency of showing these emotions prior to training. Self-reported sympathy—but not sadness or distress—predicted sad behavior and inversely predicted displays of rejection emotions in trainees only.

These results suggest that intensive meditation training encourages emotional responses to suffering characterized by enhanced sympathetic concern for, and reduced aversion to, the suffering of others.

Mindfulness and disgust in colorectal cancer scenarios

Reynolds, L. M., Consedine, N. S., & McCambridge, S. A. (2014). Mindfulness and disgust in colorectal cancer scenarios: Non-judging and non-reacting components predict avoidance when it makes sense. Mindfulness, 1-11.

From the Abstract. Mindfulness facilitates greater tolerance of unpleasant emotion and may thus promote better decision making in health settings where emotional avoidance is common. Disgust’s elicitors are common in colorectal cancer (CRC) contexts and, because disgust evolved to minimise contamination risk through avoidance and withdrawal, decision making when disgusted is important.

The current report investigated whether specific components of dispositional mindfulness predict elicited disgust and avoidance behaviours in scenarios based around CRC screening and treatment. After completing trait mindfulness measures, 80 healthy volunteers were block randomised (by gender) to disgust or control conditions before completing tasks assessing immediate avoidance of a disgust elicitor (stoma bag) and anticipated avoidance of a hypothetical CRC drug with disgusting side effects.

In total, these findings suggest persons with low mindfulness may fail to attend to emotional experience when making decisions while those higher in non-react and non-judge components may use their disgust to inform both current and future behaviour. Mindfulness training may promote more integrated decision-making skills in CRC contexts where disgust is a factor.

Mindfulness, disgust, bowel health, social avoidance

Reynolds, L. M., et al. (2014). Does a brief state mindfulness induction moderate disgust-driven social avoidance and decision-making? An experimental investigation. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1-12.

From the Abstract. In this experimental study, we evaluated whether manipulated disgust and mindfulness predicted social avoidance in bowel health contexts. Community participants (n = 101) were randomised to conditions in which disgust and/or state mindfulness were experimentally induced. Tasks assessing social avoidance and perceptions of available social networks in the context of bowel/health problems were conducted.

Manipulation checks confirmed the elicitation of disgust and state mindfulness in the applicable conditions. As expected, persons in the disgust condition were more likely to exhibit immediate social avoidance (rejecting a glass of water). State disgust predicted greater socially avoidant decision-making, less decisional conflict, and smaller social network maps. State mindfulness predicted fewer names on inner network circles and amplified the effect of disgust on creating smaller social network maps.

This report furthers understanding of disgust and avoidance in bowel health contexts, and suggests the need for caution in mindfulness interventions that raise awareness of emotion without also providing skills in emotional regulation.