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

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 13 February 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00015

Mindfulness training alters emotional memory recall compared to active controls: support for an emotional information processing model of mindfulness

Douglas Roberts-Wolfe1,2,3, Matthew D. Sacchet1,2,4, Elizabeth Hastings1,5, Harold Roth1,6,7 and Willoughby Britton1,2*
  • 1 Contemplative Studies Initiative, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 2 Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University Medical School, Providence, RI, USA
  • 3 Medical Scientist Training Program, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA
  • 4 Neurosciences PhD Program, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA
  • 5 Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 6 Department of Religious Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA
  • 7 Department of East Asian Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA

Objectives: While mindfulness-based interventions have received widespread application in both clinical and non-clinical populations, the mechanism by which mindfulness meditation improves well-being remains elusive. One possibility is that mindfulness training alters the processing of emotional information, similar to prevailing cognitive models of depression and anxiety. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of mindfulness training on emotional information processing (i.e., memory) biases in relation to both clinical symptomatology and well-being in comparison to active control conditions. Methods: Fifty-eight university students (28 female, age = 20.1 ± 2.7 years) participated in either a 12-week course containing a “meditation laboratory” or an active control course with similar content or experiential practice laboratory format (music). Participants completed an emotional word recall task and self-report questionnaires of well-being and clinical symptoms before and after the 12-week course. Results: Meditators showed greater increases in positive word recall compared to controls [F(1, 56) = 6.6, p = 0.02]. The meditation group increased significantly more on measures of well-being [F(1, 56) = 6.6, p = 0.01], with a marginal decrease in depression and anxiety [F(1, 56) = 3.0, p = 0.09] compared to controls. Increased positive word recall was associated with increased psychological well-being (r = 0.31, p = 0.02) and decreased clinical symptoms (r = −0.29, p = 0.03). Conclusion: Mindfulness training was associated with greater improvements in processing efficiency for positively valenced stimuli than active control conditions. This change in emotional information processing was associated with improvements in psychological well-being and less depression and anxiety. These data suggest that mindfulness training may improve well-being via changes in emotional information processing. Future research with a fully randomized design will be needed to clarify the possible influence of self-selection.

Keywords: emotional information processing, mindfulness, memory

Citation: Roberts-Wolfe D, Sacchet MD, Hastings E, Roth H and Britton W (2012) Mindfulness training alters emotional memory recall compared to active controls: support for an emotional information processing model of mindfulness. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:15. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00015

Received: 28 October 2011; Accepted: 14 January 2012;
Published online: 13 February 2012.

Edited by:

Jack Van Honk, Utrecht University, Netherlands

Reviewed by:

Franco Cauda, University of Turin, Italy
David Terburg, Universiteit Utrecht, Netherlands

Copyright: © 2012 Roberts-Wolfe, Sacchet, Hastings, Roth and Britton. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Willoughby Britton, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, 185 Brown Street Providence, RI 02906, USA. e-mail:

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