The Role of Mindfulness and Self-Compassion in the Neural Mechanisms of Attention and Self-Monitoring
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The present study sought to investigate the effects of meditation practice on the neural mechanisms of attention and self-monitoring by comparing a group of experienced meditators to matched controls. Self-report measures of mindfulness and self-compassion were assessed to examine whether meditation-related improvements in attention and self-monitoring were linked to increases in these qualities. Thus, differences between groups (meditator versus control) on all variables and relationships among variables (attention, self-monitoring, self-compassion, and mindfulness) were explored. Results indicate that individuals with meditation experience showed enhancement in neural networks related to selective attention and attentional allocation, as evidenced by larger P1/N1 and P3b amplitudes, relative to controls. Meditators also showed improved self-monitoring of their errors, as indexed by enhanced Pe amplitudes, when compared to controls. Importantly, greater number of years of meditation experience was linked to larger Pe amplitudes, providing evidence that more practice with meditation was associated with greater error awareness. At the same time, meditators showed greater levels of mindfulness and self-compassion when compared to controls. Importantly, each of the neural indices was linked to greater levels of mindfulness and self-compassion. Specifically, self-kindness was correlated with each of these ERP components and to percentage of alpha power during meditation, and the mindfulness facet of observing fully mediated the relationship between meditation experience and P1 amplitudes. These findings suggest that the qualities that are enhanced with meditation are associated with enhancements in attentional control and awareness of errors. This study is an exciting step toward future intervention studies that combine multiple sources of information (self-report, neural measures, and behavior) to clarify the nature of the associations among these variables so that the mechanisms of mindfulness can be more fully understood.