Changes in Emotional Reactivity after Different Types of Mental Training
Meditation-based mental training interventions show physical and mental health benefits. However, how different types of mental practice affect emotion processing at both the brain and the behavioral level is uncertain. The ReSource project addressed this issue by enrolling 332 participants who each completed three 3-month training modules cultivating 1) attention and body awareness; 2) socio-affective skills, such as compassion and kindness; and 3) socio-cognitive skills, such as perspective taking. Many other mindfulness programs, including Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, include all three types of training. The participants in this study performed an emotion anticipation task and underwent a functional MRI scan before and after each module. Only the module including compassion and kindness practices led to a significant reduction of experienced negative affect when exposed to images depicting human suffering. This decrease was associated with changes in functional plasticity in brain networks playing a key role in emotional regulation. The authors concluded that socio-affective, but not attention- or socio-cognitive based mental training, is specifically effective in improving emotion regulation when facing adversity. This may be particularly important for individuals regularly exposed to suffering such as those in helping professions.
Favre P, Kanske P, Engel H, Singer T. Neuroimage. 237:118132, 2021.
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