How do mindfulness and compassion programs improve mental health and well-being? The role of attentional processing of emotional information

Author: Pablo Roca1, Carmelo Vazquez2, Gustavo Diez3, Richard J McNally4
1 Faculty of Health Sciences, Universidad Villanueva, Spain; Valencian International University, Valencia, Spain. Electronic address:
2 School of Psychology, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
3 Nirakara Lab, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
4 Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA.
Conference/Journal: J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry
Date published: 2023 Jul 23
Other: Volume ID: 81 , Pages: 101895 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2023.101895. , Word Count: 245

Background and objectives:
Although the benefits of Meditation-Based Programs are well documented, the mechanisms underlying these benefits have not been fully elucidated. Therefore, we examined whether: (1) formal training in mindfulness and compassion meditation modifies the distribution of attentional resources towards emotional information; and (2) whether changes in attentional processing of emotional information after the meditation programs mediate the improvements in psychological distress, emotion regulation, and well-being.

A sample of 103 participants enrolled in the study: 36 in the mindfulness program (MBSR), 30 in the compassion program (CCT), and 37 in the no-intervention comparison group (CG). The assessment before and after the programs included the completion of an emotional Attentional Blink task (AB) together with self-report measures of psychological distress, emotion regulation, and well-being.

MBSR and CCT reduced similarly the AB deficit, whereas no changes occurred in the CG. This AB reduction was found for the different emotional and non-emotional stimuli (i.e., negative, positive, and neutral), showing a significant disengagement from first-target emotions and significant accessibility of second-target emotions to consciousness. The effects of both meditation programs on the psychological measures were mediated by changes in the AB and emotion regulation skills.

Due to our naturalistic design in a real-world community setting, random assignment of participants was not feasible.

Meditation may promote more flexible and balanced attention to emotional information, which may be a key transdiagnostic mechanism underlying its benefits on emotional distress and well-being.

Keywords: Attentional blink; Compassion; Distress; Mindfulness; Well-being.

PMID: 37515955 DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2023.101895