Meditation Keeps Emotional Brain in Check

Summary: Meditation can help people to take their negative emotions, a new study reports.

Source: Michigan State University.

Meditation can help tame your emotions even if you’re not a mindful person, suggests a new study from Michigan State University.

Reporting in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, psychology researchers recorded the brain activity of people looking at disturbing pictures immediately after meditating for the first time. These participants were able to tame their negative emotions just as well as participants who were naturally mindful.

“Our findings not only demonstrate that meditation improves emotional health, but that people can acquire these benefits regardless of their ‘natural’ ability to be mindful,” said Yanli Lin, an MSU graduate student and lead investigator of the study. “It just takes some practice.”

Mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations, has gained worldwide popularity as a way to promote health and well-being. But what if someone isn’t naturally mindful? Can they become so simply by trying to make mindfulness a “state of mind”? Or perhaps through a more focused, deliberate effort like meditation?

The study, conducted in Jason Moser’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, attempted to find out.

Researchers assessed 68 participants for mindfulness using a scientifically validated survey. The participants were then randomly assigned to engage in an 18-minute audio guided meditation or listen to a control presentation of how to learn a new language, before viewing negative pictures (such as a bloody corpse) while their brain activity was recorded.

The participants who meditated – they had varying levels of natural mindfulness – showed similar levels of “emotion regulatory” brain activity as people with high levels of natural mindfulness. In other words their emotional brains recovered quickly after viewing the troubling photos, essentially keeping their negative emotions in check.

In addition, some of the participants were instructed to look at the gruesome photos “mindfully” (be in a mindful state of mind) while others received no such instruction. Interestingly, the people who viewed the photos “mindfully” showed no better ability to keep their negative emotions in check.

This suggests that for non-meditators, the emotional benefits of mindfulness might be better achieved through meditation, rather than “forcing it” as a state of mind, said Moser, MSU associate professor of clinical psychology and co-author of the study.

“If you’re a naturally mindful person, and you’re walking around very aware of things, you’re good to go. You shed your emotions quickly,” Moser said. “If you’re not naturally mindful, then meditating can make you look like a person who walks around with a lot of mindfulness. But for people who are not naturally mindful and have never meditated, forcing oneself to be mindful ‘in the moment’ doesn’t work. You’d be better off meditating for 20 minutes.”

About this psychology research article

Source: Michigan State University
Image Source: This image is adapted from the Michigan State University press release.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation” by Yanli Lin, Megan E. Fisher, Sean M. M. Roberts and Jason S. Moser in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Published online September 7 2016 doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00451

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Michigan State University. “Meditation Keeps Emotional Brain in Check.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 29 September 2016.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Michigan State University. (2016, September 29). Meditation Keeps Emotional Brain in Check. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Michigan State University. “Meditation Keeps Emotional Brain in Check.” (accessed September 29, 2016).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation

The present study sought to uncover the emotion regulatory properties of mindfulness by examining its effects—differentiated as a meditative practice, state of mind and dispositional trait—on the late positive potential (LPP), an event-related potentials (ERPs) indexing emotional processing. Results revealed that mindfulness as a meditative practice produced a reduction in the difference between the LPP response to negative high arousing and neutral stimuli across time. In contrast, a state mindfulness induction (i.e., instructions to attend to the stimuli mindfully) failed to modulate the LPP. Dispositional mindfulness, however, was related to modulation of the LPP as a function of meditation practice. Dispositional mindfulness was associated with a reduction of the LPP response to negative high arousal stimuli and the difference between negative high arousal and neutral stimuli in participants who listened to a control audio recording but not for those who engaged in the guided meditation practice. Together, these findings provide experimental evidence demonstrating that brief mindfulness meditation, but not deliberate engagement in state mindfulness, produces demonstrable changes in emotional processing indicative of reduced emotional reactivity. Importantly, these effects are akin to those observed in individuals with naturally high dispositional mindfulness, suggesting that the benefits of mindfulness can be cultivated through practice.

“Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation” by Yanli Lin, Megan E. Fisher, Sean M. M. Roberts and Jason S. Moser in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Published online September 7 2016 doi:10.3389/fnhum.2016.00451

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