Comparing impacts of meditation training in focused attention, open monitoring, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on emotion reactivity and regulation: Neural and subjective evidence from a dismantling study

Author: Kirk Warren Brown1, Daniel Berry2, Kristina Eichel3, Polina Beloborodova1, Hadley Rahrig1, Willoughby B Britton3
1 Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA.
2 Department of Psychology, California State University, San Marcos, San Marcos, California, USA.
3 Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
Conference/Journal: Psychophysiology
Date published: 2022 Feb 19
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1111/psyp.14024. , Word Count: 251

Commonly conducted mindfulness-based trainings such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) highlight training in two key forms of meditation: focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM). Largely unknown is what each of these mindfulness practices contributes to emotional and other important training outcomes. This dismantling trial compared the effects of structurally equivalent trainings in MBCT, FA, and OM on neural and subjective markers of emotional reactivity and regulation among community adults, with the aim to better understand which forms of training represent active ingredients in mindfulness trainings. Participants with varying levels of depressive symptoms were randomized to one of the three trainings. Before and after each 8-week training, N = 89 participants completed a modified version of the Emotional Reactivity and Regulation Task while electroencephalographic (EEG) and self-reported emotional responses to negative, positive, and neutral photographic images were collected. Examination of EEG-based frontal alpha band asymmetry during passive viewing (reactivity) and active regulation phases of the task showed that FA and MBCT trainings produced significant leftward hemispheric shifts in frontal alpha asymmetry, commonly associated with a shift toward approach-based positive affect. Self-reported emotional responses to negative images corroborated these results, suggesting salutary changes in both emotional reactivity and regulation. OM training had limited beneficial effects, restricted to the subjective outcomes. The findings suggest that MBCT may derive its greatest benefit from training in FA rather than OM. Discussion highlights the potential value of FA training for emotional health.

Keywords: electroencephalography; emotion regulation; emotional reactivity; meditation; mindfulness.

PMID: 35182393 DOI: 10.1111/psyp.14024