THE UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL PSYCHOLOGY MAGAZINE VOLUME 2, ISSUE 1
MEDITATION & THE BRAIN PSYCHOPATHS
AT LARGE It isn’t as bad as you might think...
How mindfulness meditation can help you help yourself
VOLUME 2 | ISSUE 1 | PSYCHE | 1
s t n e t n o c Could psychopathy be a good thing? Josh Farrell Truth Seeker, what is the sunset for? Julie Gosheva “Smelly-vision” Beyrom Irani
4 7 8
MRI–derived volumetric measurements of Alzheimer’s disease susceptible subcortical regions
Lisi Wang & Punsala Navaratna The effects of mindfulness meditation Man Shan Janice Yu
ed i tor’s “ correspondence W
ELCOME to new students and welcome back to returning students! This first issue of the second volume showcases the variety of talent that Bristol psychology has to offer. We have for you two informal articles, two research articles, and a poem, each on a different topic. The common thread between them is that, of course, they were written by Bristol students! To those new to Psyche, we encourage you to participate, either by joining the team or contributing an article (or both!). As ever, you can get in contact by emailing us — the same for returners! No matter if you’re a first year undergraduate or first year PhD student, we welcome your submissions. This term, we will be forming our new team for the 2014/15 academic year, so do get in touch if you’re interested in editing, design (graphic or layout), illustration, or marketing. Thank you to the manuscript editors for looking over the issue, and of course to our contributors for giving us the content to look over in the first place! As well, thanks to the cover artist Joe Daly, a third year undergraduate psychology student, for creating this beautiful cover! Lastly, once again, lots of gratitude goes out to the School of Experimental Psychology for funding the printing of these issues. We hope you have a wonderful year! —JL
Editorial Team Editor-in-Chief & Layout Design Julie Lee Manuscript Editors Robyn Dean Julie Gosheva Olivia Winton Cover Art Joe Daly
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PSYCHOPATHY be a
the pros and cons of being a psychopath
HEN we hear the word ‘psychopath’, it is hard not to automatically envisage an extremist character such as Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs, 1991), Norman Bates (Psycho, 1960), or even Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008). However, psychopaths are more common than you might think. At the time of writing, an estimated 1% of the world population (roughly 73 million people) are diagnosed psychopaths. Nevertheless,
psychopaths can be just the kind of people we can count on in a societal dilemma. And why wouldn’t they be? Psychopaths are ruthless, fearless, charismatic, tough, incredibly self-confident and lacking in both conscience and While there are empathy. So, they are psychopaths that com- attracted to positions of pletely adhere to the dominance: surgeons, executives, traditional movie ste- financial reotype, as Oxford CEOs, lawyers and professor Kevin even police officers! Dutton writes in his As Dutton points out book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What in an interview with Saints, Spies and Serial the American newspaKillers Can Teach Us per The Smithsonian, About Success (2012), “Depending upon the there is no need to lock your door and hide — psychopaths are not necessarily the savage, knife-wielding killer that we might assume them to be. In truth, there is a possibility that being a psychopath could be beneficial.
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context, in certain endeavours, certain professions, [psychopaths] are going to be predisposed to great success”. Whilst, for instance, a psychopath’s lack of empathy might ring alarm bells for most, there are situations where being able to detach oneself from emotional feeling can be an advantage rather than a weakness. For example, it is beneficial for a surgeon to be able to detach themselves emotionally from any patient they operate upon. It could therefore be postulated that without the existence of individuals with the capacity for psychopathy, society may just be worse off than if they did not exist at all. Furthermore, there is a distinct possibility that psychopaths are at an evolutionary advantage compared to the ‘average’ human. Think about it — why wouldn’t psychopaths benefit from their traits?
incredible composure under pressure, a focus on only the positive, never taking matters personally and never lambasting themselves for when situations go wrong, even if they are at fault. Regardless of issues with empathy, psychopaths benefit from an ability to ‘read’ other people’s social psychological characteristics and states. This is illustrated by examining their intellectual aptitude for understanding social dynamics — for instance, by identifying if an individual
is likely to conform or be independent of the majority. Thus, psychopaths are in a better position to achieve their goals as a result of their association with others. By not requiring empathy, the psychopath is free from having ‘emotion cloud one’s judgement’ and therefore can focus on the ideals of self-survival and satisfaction. From a moralistic viewpoint, this may be seen as disgustingly self-centred and egomaniacal, but, from an evolutionary perspective, this single-mindedness only ensures the essential passing on of genes to the next generation! After all, this is what all our innate evolutionary mechanisms purportedly desire. 4
The assertive nature of a psychopath results in a number of self-enhancing attributes: VOLUME 2 | ISSUE 1 | PSYCHE | 5
Recent research even suggests that psychopaths are at an advantage as they have the capacity to ‘switch empathy off’. Meffert et al. (2013) asked 18 psychopathic offenders and 26 control subjects to watch a series of video clips showing an emotional hand interaction (loving, painful, socially rejecting, or neutral). When psychopathic offenders were prompted to ‘feel’ with the actors who engaged in emotional hand interactions, there was a significant reduction in brain activity associated with the necessary regions for experiencing these interactions. The only exception was when they were asked to imagine how the actor felt receiving pain. In this instance, the brain area related to pain ‘lit up’. Christian Keysers of the aforementioned study told the BBC: “They [psychopaths] don’t lack empathy but they seem to have a switch to turn it on and off. By default, it appears to be off”.
lutionary advantages documented here, it does not take a philosopher of ethics to demonstrate that there are obvious moral issues concerning the ‘psychopath’ in the modern world. Psychopaths can become savage killers such as Ted Bundy, Andrei Chikatilo, or the infamous Californian Zodiac killer (who was never caught). They can cause immense pain to their victims and anyone that gets close to them. They can be threats to the overall wellbeing of society. But just because they can doesn’t mean they will.
This links to the ageold argument of nature vs. nuture and, in the present day, the role of the interplay between an individual’s neurophysiology and their environment in developing psychopathy is still an issue that is open for debate. As one blogger from Psychology Today writes: “psychopaths could inherit the environment of their parents. If a psychopathic parHowever, despite ent was subjected all the social and evo- to child abuse and
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trauma, then perhaps they will act violently and aggressively to their children because of their disorder – violence begets violence”. In conclusion, the issue of whether being a psychopath is a good thing does not generate a clear objectively true answer for everyone. For an individual who possesses the psychopath’s traits and does not display any tendency for violent actions, can we honestly say being a psychopath is necessarily a bad thing? Naturally, this question can only lead to intense debate between those who seek ‘moral correctness’ and those who seek the evolutionary prime that psychopathy could bring. Therefore, attempting to solve the ‘virtues’ of being a psychopath is a problem that remains impossible to objectively solve given its entirely subjective nature. Josh Farrell Second year Psychology and Philosophy
Truth Seeker, what is the sunset for? She became a truth seeker out of disappointment; Out of lament for the innocence she gave away before she knew its value, and the broken promises of worldly justice, freedom and forgiveness. She became a truth seeker for the pettiness in human nature, for the vanity in her own soul and for the sunsets too beautiful for our politics. She became a truth seeker because every awakening is rude, mornings come too soon and peace of mind never overstays. So she is always asking questions (apart from when she’s drunk) second-guessing her suspicions and overthinking luck, searching far and wide for satisfying answers – She refuses to believe the glorified, deified lies that promise structure, meaning and belonging, even when the truth is yet fragmented and unorthodox – for faith was never meant to be easy. And it’s hard, all of the time but truth seeker seek – truth seeker find. I asked her one day what the sunset was for when office politics pulled another final straw – She said “But I am sure that you must already know, no? Then you must stop watching the news.’’ She said (and you must pay attention here) that sunsets were made for #RudeLove, for #UnapologeticMiniskirts, #OldLadiesOnMotorbikes, #80sHaircuts, #CatsPlayingWithBoxes, for #WastingMoney, #GivingGifts, #DancingAtFunerals, #JuvenileMischief, #TurningTheOtherCheek, for #LaughingInFear’sFace, #FailingExams, #PassingExams, #ForgettingThePast, for #SayingYes, for #DreamingFuriously, and for #GrowingOut (not up) – So there you go. Julie Gosheva Third year Psychology VOLUME 2 | ISSUE 1 | PSYCHE | 7
y l l e “Sm ion Vis ” a brief history (and future) of olfaction-enhanced multimedia
ATCHING television can be, and often is a sensorial delight, providing an escape from the first-person experience and encapsulates the viewer in an alternative perceptual state.
bystander to drama in the streets of the East End, for instance, or flying high over the plains of Africa while a pride of lions procures its lunch.
Audio technology has also become highly sophisticated, with Technology has fed surround sound home this need to entertain cinema systems able to through immersion, produce a 360-degree as there are now ever soundscape to match. more complex (and Even our tactile sense is expensive) screens now fully accustomed available to provide to interacting with multhe most realistic visual timedia through the use experience possible. of touchscreen smartcomputers, First, there were wides- phones, creen TVs, then HD, 3D, and gaming consoles. machines 4K and curved screens. However, able to replicate All this is designed olfactory (i.e. smell) sento make the audience sations seem juvenile forget that they are by comparison. Why is not, in fact, in their sit- this so, what advanceting room, but rather a ments can be made, 8 | PSYCHE | VOLUME 2 | ISSUE 1
and how much could this benefit the overall sensory experience of watching television? In the early 20th century, there began a ‘wave’ of attempts to enhance the audiovisual experience using olfaction. Though these were initially simplistic to the point of crudity — for example, releasing a single fragrance over a cinema audience — researchers quickly understood the complexities of simulating realistic olfactory scenes. The sense of smell is less temporally sensitive than vision or hearing; thus, attempting to match fragrances to existing fast-paced film sequences can be difficult. So, ded-
icated productions were designed to have a complimentary smell sequence running in parallel to the picture and sound.
construe wildly varied meaning across an audience. Equally, certain auditory and visual stimuli may induce the expectation of different smells for different audience members.
over the quality of the screenplay — it incorporated long holding shots of certain objects to permit the release of their constituent odours, making for an awkward Mein Traum by Hans pace — as well as the Laube (1943) was one infrastructure necesIn 1960, this realisa- sary for a widespread such production that proved influential in tion was put to use in theatre release. These producing scents that the milestone feature doubts may have been Smell-O-Vision the reason why this was did not linger. They film of Mystery, the last major release achieved this by using Scent a specially-built audi- directed by Hollywood of an olfaction-entorium with tubes director Michael Todd hanced cinema project. leading to every seat Jr. in collaboration with — this allowed them to the now infamous Hans But, as with any techemit and eject smells Laube. Rather than nology, fashions change promptly so as to permit emitting smells that and research is driven in a more rapid turnover directly complemented other directions. Whilst and avoid confounding the visual scene, the the use of olfaction in between consecutive murder mystery plot- entertainment was as smells. It proved highly line was enhanced un-groundbreaking as effective. The main with olfactory clues it was unsuccessful, its complaint — though that pointed to the potential to enliven an not universal — was identity of the killer. artificial sensory expethat the fragrances rience is being tapped used did not correinto with virtual reality spond suitably to the systems, leading to sigaudio-visual aspects nificant practical uses. of the experience. One such sysHence, this protem utilises scents This more abstract such as burning rubduction illustrated the fundamental subjec- take on the use of ber, wood, and oil to tivity of the olfactory olfaction as a tool in train firefighters to gar- detect different types sense. More distinc- cinematography tive scents (e.g. foods, nered a much more of blazes — thereby reception aiding quicker identitobacco smoke, cof- favourable fee, etc.) may be easier than Laube’s previous fication and response to match to a visual work. However, doubts to real-life incidents. 4 scene while others may still remained, namely VOLUME 2 | ISSUE 1 | PSYCHE | 9
In addition, naturally, attempts at integrating olfaction into commercial video games have been made, with varying success. No mainstream console yet has had a fragrance-emitting device built in; however, custom-designed machines have proved effective at creating realistic — if not truly immersive — sensory representations, such as the (imaginatively-titled) Japanese Cooking Game.
ing there is no way yet of categorising unfamiliar or novel fragrances. Indeed, the subjectivity of smells is a key hurdle in olfaction research for Another application several reasons. First, is in the use of olfac- it can harm reliability tion-enhanced virtual across participants. environments in psy- Secondly, the preschological experiments, ence of changing visual, aiming to discover more auditory or tactile cues about the links between can alter the perception smell and memory, for of the same fragrance example. This in turn by the same person, aids research into reducing within-parolfaction — of which ticipant reliability. This still little is certain. notion — that olfactory perception can be Unfortunately, there influenced by alternate remain huge unan- senses — presents swered questions about new possibilities for this most everyday of olfaction research with senses. An objective technology at its core. system of classifying olfactory icons (scents In 1978, a television which directly convey broadcast in the USA information) is still to claimed to be the first be established, mean- to use a revolution-
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ary new technology. Resembling an electricity pylon, this machine was able to transmit smells through your television set and into your living room. This was, of course, nonsense. However, having asked the viewers to write in as to whether or not they had experienced a smell, the producer (in fact psychologist Michael O’Mahony) found that, of the 179 viewers who responded, a staggering 88% claimed to have experienced some form of olfactory sensation concurrent with the “pleasant country smell” they were told was being transmitted. It may well be that this was an extreme example of social con-
plex fragrance-emitting devices may not be necessary; rather, subjective cues in existing audio-visual equipment can be used to stimulate the memory systems responsible for the first-person olfactory experience. It is well known that olfaction and memory have a platonic relationship (loss of smell is an early indicator of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases). So, perhaps by creating a virtual auditory, visual and tactile environment that resembles a particular It is interesting to episode from somethink of the potential one’s memory, that to exploit these links. person might conseThere is hope that com- quently experience the
formity, but what is more important than the number of respondents is the range of smells reported: from hay and grass to flowers, vegetables, manure and fresh bread; all (barring manure) fell within the curtain of “pleasant country smell”. This means that viewers’ subjective olfactory experience was sufficiently influenced by the audio-visual cues on the TV to the point that they wrote in, convinced of having genuinely smelled something.
accompanying subjective olfactory sensation. Indeed, non-olfactory-enhanced virtual reality systems are advancing so rapidly that soon it may be possible to create a realistic auditory, visual and tactile experience such that the participant can fill in the missing olfactory gap from their own episodic memory. In reality, this is some way off. However, it is an innovative step in the way in which olfaction is being conceptualised and discussed — not simply as a standalone sensory add-on, but as a part of the general subjective first-person experience. In turn, this may have important ramifications for vision, hearing, and (episodic) memory. So, next time you sit gawping at Masterchef, Man vs. Food, or Gardeners’ World on your 42-inch plasma screen, try having a sniff and think: “What am I missing out on?” Beyrom Irani Third year Psychology
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MRI–derived volumetric measurements of Alzheimer’s disease susceptible subcortical regions Reliability effects of site and voxel size
check reliability before the participant was using these measures scanned with two difvoxel sizes: to test the drug’s effect. ferent To successfully trace 0.9mm3 and 1.1mm3. disease progression, The primary goal of it is critical that volu- this pilot study was metric measurements to choose an optimal of brain structures voxel size that could be are valid and reliable. used in the later study. Thus, the core purWithin each set of pose of this study was to test the validity and MR imaging data, four reliability of these meas- subcortical structures urements across sites. — the amygdala (AG), entorhinal cortex (EC), hippocampus (HC), Methods One healthy volunteer and lateral ventricle was scanned at several (LV) — were manually accordparticipating MRI sites segmented across the UK. This ing to well-established (Insausti experiment extracted protocols data from four sites et al., 1998; “Lateral including Aberdeen Ventricle Delineation”, Royal Infirmary n.d.; Pruessener et al., This experiment (Aberdeen), Ninewells 2000). The reduction was a pilot study of Hospital (Dundee), in volume of these four a multisite Magnetic Western Infirmary structures is correlated Resonance Imaging (Glasgow) and the with AD progression (MRI) study investigat- School of Psychology (Frisoni et al., 2010). ing the effectiveness and Clinical Language Descriptive statistics of a potential drug: Sciences (Reading). were conducted on Lorsotan. The pilot Within these sites, each structure, in order study was employed to L Z H E I M E R ’ S
disease is a heart-breaking condition mainly characterised by progressive memory loss. It is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Currently, no cure has been found that can stop its progression. For this reason, there are numerous on-going efforts to discover treatments. Effectiveness of potential medication could be monitored by the extent to which the disease progresses, which is associated with shrinkage of specific subcortical structures (Frisoni et al., 2010).
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The hippocampal tail, circled, is shown masked in a magnetic resonance image. This illustrates the process of manual segmentation.
to examine deviating values at specific sites or voxel sizes. This was followed by a two-factor repeated measures ANOVA, investigating main effects and interactions of sites and voxel sizes. Image quality measures including signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and white matter/ grey matter contrastto-noise ratio (CNR) were also quantified using two equations.
corresponding mean. Coefficient of variation of each structure (defined as standard deviation divided by mean) ranged from 1.8% to 6.5% with an average of 3.6%, indicating good consistency.
0.616, p > .05) or resolution (F(1, 7) = 0.113, p > .05) on volumes. The interaction between the two factors was also non-significant (F(1.34, 9.41) = 0.467, p > .05).
Signal-to-noise ratio and white matter/ For the two-factor grey matter contrastratio of re p e a t e d - m e a s u re s to-noise ANOVA, although the each structure were Certain assumption of sphe- computed. existed ricity was satisfied for variations site, Mauchly’s test of between sites and sphericity revealed that voxel sites. The larger the assumption was voxel size appeared to Results Descriptive statistics violated for the inter- show images with betof each structure aver- action between site ter signal and contrast. aged across sites and and voxel size. Thus, Reading had the highvoxel sizes are pre- Greenhouse-Geisser est SNR, Aberdeen the sented in Table 1. No estimates were used. lowest. CNR was highest in Aberdeen, while individual value was There was no main lowest in Glasgow. found 1.96 standard deviations beyond its effect of site (F(3, 21) = VOLUME 2 | ISSUE 1 | PSYCHE | 13
no effect of site or voxel size, they might affect different neuroanatomical structures differently. By adding more parWith more precise ticipants, the ANOVA measurements, fewer could be conducted participants would on each subcortical be required to reach structure separately. the expected statis- Lastly, raters carrying tical power. In this out manual segmentstudy, Aberdeen had ing were not blinded to more volumes that either site or voxel size. were one standard deviation beyond the Conclusion corresponding mean Present results demonthan other sites. This strate high reliability of may be attributed measurements of the to the low SNR that four neuroanatomical resulted from using a structures examined different scanner ven- manually. This sugVolumetric dor. Indeed, volumetric gests that data from the measurements across four MRI sites may be measurements scanner platforms could pooled without being across scanner potentially bias data significantly distorted by platforms could (Gouttard et al., 2009; variations in technical bias data. Jovicich et al., 2009). factors such as scanSo, acquisition param- ner type and voxel size. 1.1mm3 voxel size eters in Aberdeen must Future studies is recommended for be carefully calibrated. could benefit from the future, as mana greater number of ual segmentation be Limitations faster if voxels were Improvements could participants, use of larger. However, the still be made. Specific measurements such as precision of volumetric structural volume/ total structural volume/total measurements could brain volume ratio could brain volume ratios, still improve. also be compared, as well as blinding to which might cancel experimental conditions. Hippocampal atrophy the bias effect associLisi Wang & rate ranges from 3-6% ated with certain sites. Punsala Navaratna per year in people Graduates (2014) with mild Alzheimer’s In addition, although Psychology disease (Frisoni et al., on average there was
Overall, consistency of volumes of the amygdala, entorhinal cortex, hippocampus, and laterl ventricle was excellent, and no effect of site, voxel size, or interaction was found. Consistent with similar studies, high reliability of volumetric measurement indicated that specific acquisition parameters at each site were suitable for using subcortical volumes as surrogate markers to monitor Alzheimer’s disease progression.
2010), which is comparable to the average coefficient of variation obtained in this study.
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The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Insights from Neuroscience
INCE I started yoga, one of many forms of mindfulness meditation, I have consistently heard others share how yoga practice has made them ‘feel better’, both physically and psychologically. I therefore wanted to establish if there were any scientific grounds for this by studying the neuroscience of meditation.
as they arise (body awareness). Then they must accept them and refrain from responding to those sensations (emotion regulation), and lastly detach from identification with their rigid sense of self (change in perspective on self). These four mechanisms work in harmony to achieve an overall improvement in well-being Mindfulness med- (Davidson, 2004). itation (MM) is the process of attending This article aims to to the present moment, review the neural basis with a nonjudgmen- of those four mechatal awareness of one’s nisms of meditation. As internal and external the Buddhist tradition experiences. Hölzel et believes that the prial. (2011) identified four mary cure for human distinct yet overlap- psychological distress ping mental activities is to detach from the that co-occur during static self (Olendzki, meditative practice. For 2010), changing perinstance, practition- spectives on self is ers are instructed to arguably the ultimate consciously focus thei- purpose of meditation, rattention to an object as it acts as the key (attention regulation), to enduring happiness. while being aware The article will thereof their bodily and fore focus on this fourth emotional sensations mechanism after consid-
ering each other in turn.
The Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), an area associated with executive function, has been suggested to be involved during meditative state. fMRI studies show greater ACC activation in meditators than non-meditators (Holzel et al., 2007). Furthermore, EEG studies report an increase in frontal midline theta activity during meditation, a finding that commonly corresponds with attention-demanding tasks. Further, this is found to be correlated with increased ACC glucose utilisation (Cahn & Polich, 2006). These findings suggest the role of ACC in sustaining attention, allowing one to stay engaged during meditation. It is hypothesized that when distractions arise, the ACC detects
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them and transmits control signals to alert the corresponding brain systems that involved in attentional control to resolve the conflict (Hölzel et al., 2011). The act of regulating attention is essential for processing the other mechanisms.
vations in both regions in meditators than non-meditators, when participants focused on momentary experience (Farb et al., 2007), and when presented with painful stimuli (Gard et al., 2010).
These results suggest stronger sensory awareness is developed Body awareness is the ability to observe after regular practice subtle bodily sensa- (Hölzel et al., 2011). tions (Mehling et al., That is, mindfulness 2009). This includes training may strengthen noticing both external one’s ability to accuobserve the and internal sensory rately experiences (Bechara sensations as they are. & Naqvi, 2004). The enhanced awareness, in turn, enables Two brain regions one’s ability to reguhave been identified late those emotions. as being involved. The right Anterior Insula, an Emotion area associated with Regulation interoceptive (internal) is the act of altersensitivity and visceral ing one’s emotional awareness (Craig, 2003), responses through showed greater activity in meditators than controls when presented with unpleasant stimuli. The secondary somatosensory cortex (S2), responsible for processing exteroceptive sensory events, is also involved during meditation. Two fMRI studies reported stronger acti16 | PSYCHE | VOLUME 2 | ISSUE 1
When comparing brain activations of meditators to non-meditators, regions in the prefrontal cortex are activated, while the amygdala is typically deactivated. This finding corresponds with emotion-regulating tasks. The negative correlation can be strengthened through mindfulness practice, implying a stronger inhibitory association in which the PFC exerts inhibitory control over amygdala responses (Davidson, Jackson, & Kalin, 2000). The decreased emotional reactivity as a result of MM is supported by behavioural studies. Experienced meditators were less
emotionally interfered when reading aversive stimuli than novice meditators (Ortner et al., 2007), signaling better control over behavioural reactions to emotions.
Change in Perspective on Self
When the meditator succeeds in body awareness and emotion regulation, the process of the repeatedly-arising thoughts and emotions becomes observable to the meditator (Hölzel et al., 2011). This awareness of the ‘transitory self’ fosters a detachment from the static sense of self (Epstein, 1988) and facilitates the development of the ‘observer perspective’ (Kerr, Josyula, & Littenberg, 2011).
engage in self-referencing. Instead, it works closely with the PCC in maintaining one’s narrative self-identity. For instance, the mPFC receives and integrates all signals from The Default exteroceptive and interMode Network modalities Self-referential process- oceptive ing refers to evaluating (Rolls, 2000), and relays a stimulus’ relevance the information to the to oneself (Northoff et PCC. This then evalual., 2006). This process ates the significance or robustly activates cor- relevance of the infortical midline structures mation to the self, and Instead of viewing including the Medial finally integrates it into cognition, feelings and Prefrontal Cortex one’s identity (Northoff sensations as ‘good’ or (mPFC), Posterior & Bermpohl, 2004). ‘bad’ and referencing Cingulate Cortex them to the self, these (PCC) and the Inferior Lastly, IPL is a region are perceived more as Parietal Lobule (IPL) associated with meditransient events that (Sajonz et al., 2010). ating between first can be simply observed and third person per(Williams, Teasdale, While mPFC is com- spectives (Blanke et Segal & Kabat-Zinn, monly associated with al., 2005) and is said 2007). Although only a range of self-related to facilitate a detached of self-focus the most advanced functions, some argue view meditators experience that it does not directly (Ruby & Decety, 2004). this fundamental disidentification of self, practitioners often feel a change in perspective of self even at the early stages.
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Both mPFC and PCC show high activity during self-referencing. In other words, implying that the more activity found in these regions, the more identified one is with the static sense of self. These brain areas were also found to be active during rest (Gusnard et al., 2001) and are therefore referred as the ‘default mode network’ (DMN).
Meditation and the DMN
The DMN’s activation and connectivity have been found to be impacted by mindfulness practice. Both mPFC and PCC were deactivated in meditators compared to controls (Farb et al., 2007). EEG studies also reported a lower gamma activity in MM practitioners than non-practitioners within the frontal midline areas that reflect DMN activity (Berkovich-Ohana et al., 2012; Chen, Feng, Zhao, Yin & Wang, 2008) and narrative self-reference (Northoff et al., 2006). On top of demonstrating a reduced mPFC
activity, the fMRI study of Farb et al. (2007) also showed a pronounced shift of activity in MM-trained participants away from DMN towards a right lateralised network consisting of PFC (increased inhibitory control over emotions), IPL (facilitated an observer perspective) and viscerosomatic areas including the insula and S2 (enhanced observational clarity). Overall, decreased DMN activity reflects a diminished engagement in the habitual mode of narrative self-reference, and an increased involvement in the first-person experience (Hölzel et al., 2011). This is reaffirmed by the analysis by Kerr et al. (2011) of diaries in which an ‘observing self’ was seen to develop in participants over an eight-week mindfulness course.
ness training, meaning participants were less identified with sensations (Farb et al. 2007). As well, they found increased connectivity of the right insula with the PFC (implying augmented cognitive control over sensations). These findings are consistent with those reported earlier, and represent a shift from narrative self-referencing towards a more self-detached and momentaryself-referential processing. Another fcMRI study revealed a stronger coupling in meditators between PCC and brain structures responsible for conflict-monitoring and cognitive control (i.e. the ACC and DLPFC) both during rest and meditation (Brewer et al., 2011).
The researchers’ interpretation was that the strengthened PCC’s Furthermore, a func- connection to self-contional connectivity MRI trol regions facilitates (fcMRI) study reported the conflict-monitoring lower functional con- and control over the nectivity of the coupling function of PCC (or between the mPFC and DMN in general). That insula after mindful- is, when self-referenc-
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ing thoughts associated with the DMN emerge and interfere with a meditating task, control regions coactivate more efficiently to counteract this process. The coactivation of the DMN with monitoring systems may, over time, become a new processing mode that replaces the default mode, as observed in experienced meditators during both meditative and resting states. When the habit of self-identification and default mode processing is reversed as a result of continuous mindfulness practice, then, according to the Buddhist philosophy, begins the process of liberation (Olendzki, 2010).
ACC, insula, regions (Lazar Holzel
right anterior S2, IPL and of the PFC et al., 2005; et al., 2008).
Continual practice can create lasting structural changes. These studies also showed an increase in gray matter density in these areas and a decline in gray matter concentration in the amygdala (Holzel et al., 2010). Similar changes were also detected even after only eight weeks of mindfulness training (Holzel et al., 2011b). This suggests that long-term meditative practice may increase brain plasticity.
Second, different meditative styles vary in their approaches and thus activation patterns (Dunn, Hartigan & Mikulas, 1999). Studies investigating other meditative techniques could yield results that are not generalisable to MM, and warrant careful interpretation. Lastly, the lack of consistency in the use of analytical tools, research design, and the induced duration of meditation training is also likely to create empirical discrepancies.
Four interrelated activities occur during meditation. Regular engagement in these leads to improved attentional ability, enhanced perceptual Neuroplasticity Limitations clarity, reduced emoMeditating not only Several factors may tional reactivity and induces short term contribute to incon- modification from a brain alterations, but its sistencies of existing twisted view of self — continual practice can findings. First, due factors often associated create lasting struc- to difficulty in isolat- with increased psytural changes. Imaging ing the interrelated chological well-being. studies found that activities that occur experienced medita- in meditation, multitors have significantly ple areas underlying Man Shan Janice Yu greater cortical thick- different mechanisms Graduate (2013) ness than age-matched are often co-activated. MEd Psychology of non-meditators in the Education (BPS) VOLUME 2 | ISSUE 1 | PSYCHE | 19
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Published on Oct 6, 2014