Neural and Behavioral Mechanisms of Mindfulness and Meditation
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Meditation is a useful construct with which to bridge the divide between physiology and psychology because of its impacts on both physical and mental health. Examining the same construct from different perspectives allows for the synthesis of knowledge from psychology and from physiology, and establishing the mechanisms by which mindfulness exerts its eects is important for understanding and intervening on the proximal factors that contribute to mental and physical health. The goal of this dissertation is to advance the understanding of the mechanisms of meditation and mindfulness using a multi-method approach. Chapter 2 asks "How well is trait mindfulness perceived by outside observers?" via self-other agreement (SOA), observability, and evaluativeness of mindfulness. Study 1 investigated SOA of trait mindfulness. SOA correlations suggest that the internal process of mindfulness likely manifests in observable behaviors. Study 2 investigated the observability and evaluativeness of mindfulness. There were no strong relationships between SOA and either observability or evaluativeness of mindfulness, suggesting that SOA is not strongly impacted by enhancing biases in self report or the observability of the process of mindfulness. The behavioral outcomes of mindfulness, rather than the mental processes alone, may determine how mindfulness impacts relationships. Chapter 3 investigated the effects of mindfulness training on parents' neural activity and the parent-child relationship. Parents completed a fMRI mindfulness task before and after attending a mindfulness course with their early-adolescent children. Parent neural activation increased in areas related to self-awareness, interoception, and emotion regulation. Changes in parents' activation in an area related to empathy correlated with changes in children's reports of the parent-child relationship. These findings suggest that parent emotion regulation is a potential mechanism by which mindful parenting interventions affect change. Chapter 4 tested endogenous opioid involvement in meditation analgesia using cross-over administration of the opioid antagonist Naloxone and experienced meditators. Pain was significantly lower during meditation than at baseline under Naloxone, indicating that long-term meditation practice inhibits pain via a non-opioid pathway and presents the first evidence that opioids inhibit another neurochemical pathway leading to pain relief. This dissertation includes previously published and unpublished co-authored material.