This article is part of the Research Topic Neural Effects of Mindfulness/Contemplative Training

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 01 November 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00292

Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state

Gaëlle Desbordes1,2*, Lobsang T. Negi3, Thaddeus W. W. Pace4, B. Alan Wallace5, Charles L. Raison6 and Eric L. Schwartz2,7
  • 1Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA
  • 2Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA
  • 3Department of Religion, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA
  • 4Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA
  • 5Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
  • 6Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine and Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, College of Agriculture, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
  • 7Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

The amygdala has been repeatedly implicated in emotional processing of both positive and negative-valence stimuli. Previous studies suggest that the amygdala response to emotional stimuli is lower when the subject is in a meditative state of mindful-attention, both in beginner meditators after an 8-week meditation intervention and in expert meditators. However, the longitudinal effects of meditation training on amygdala responses have not been reported when participants are in an ordinary, non-meditative state. In this study, we investigated how 8 weeks of training in meditation affects amygdala responses to emotional stimuli in subjects when in a non-meditative state. Healthy adults with no prior meditation experience took part in 8 weeks of either Mindful Attention Training (MAT), Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT; a program based on Tibetan Buddhist compassion meditation practices), or an active control intervention. Before and after the intervention, participants underwent an fMRI experiment during which they were presented images with positive, negative, and neutral emotional valences from the IAPS database while remaining in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Using a region-of-interest analysis, we found a longitudinal decrease in right amygdala activation in the Mindful Attention group in response to positive images, and in response to images of all valences overall. In the CBCT group, we found a trend increase in right amygdala response to negative images, which was significantly correlated with a decrease in depression score. No effects or trends were observed in the control group. This finding suggests that the effects of meditation training on emotional processing might transfer to non-meditative states. This is consistent with the hypothesis that meditation training may induce learning that is not stimulus- or task-specific, but process-specific, and thereby may result in enduring changes in mental function.

Keywords: meditation, mindfulness, attention, compassion, amygdala, emotion, fMRI

Citation: Desbordes G, Negi LT, Pace TWW, Wallace BA, Raison CL and Schwartz EL (2012) Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:292. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00292

Received: 01 February 2012; Accepted: 03 October 2012;
Published online: 01 November 2012.

Edited by:

Amishi P. Jha, University of Miami, USA

Reviewed by:

Hidenao Fukuyama, Kyoto University, Japan
Marieke K. Van Vugt, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Copyright © 2012 Desbordes, Negi, Pace, Wallace, Raison and Schwartz. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Gaëlle Desbordes, Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, 149 Thirteenth St. Suite 2301, Boston, MA 02129, USA. e-mail: desbordes@gmail.com

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