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Researchers 'dismantle' mindfulness intervention to see how each component works -- ScienceDaily

As health interventions based on mindfulness have grown in popularity, some of the field's leading researchers have become concerned that the evidence base for such practices is not yet robust enough. A new study shows how a rigorous approach to studying mindfulness-based interventions can help ensure that claims are backed by science. One problem is that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) sometimes blend practices, which makes it difficult to measure how each of those practices affects participants. To address that issue, the researchers took a common intervention for mood disorders -- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) -- and created a controlled study that isolated, or dismantled, its two main ingredients. Those include open monitoring (OM) -- noticing and acknowledging negative feelings without judgment or an emotional secondary reaction to them; and focused attention (FA) -- maintaining focus on or shifting it toward a neutral sensation, such as breathing, to disengage from negative emotions or distractions. "It has long been hypothesized that focused attention practice improves attentional control while open-monitoring promotes emotional non-reactivity -- two aspects of mindfulness thought to contribute its therapeutic effects," said study lead and corresponding author Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. "However, because these two practices are almost always delivered in combination, it is difficult to assess their purported differential effects. By creating separate, validated, single-ingredient training programs for each practice, the current project provides researchers with a tool to test the individual contributions of each component and mechanism to clinical endpoints." In the study, the researchers randomized more than 100 individuals with mild-to-severe depression, anxiety and stress to take one of three eight-week courses: one set of classes provided a standardized MBCT that incorporated the typical blend of OM and FA. The two other classes each provided an intervention that employed only OM or only FA. In every other respect -- time spent in class, time practicing at home, instructor training and skill, participant characteristics, number of handouts -- each class was comparable by design. At the beginning and end of the classes, the researchers asked the volunteers to answer a variety of standardized questionnaires, including scales that measure their self-reported ability to achieve some of the key skills each practice is assumed to improve. If the researchers saw significant differences between the FA group and the OM group on the skills each was supposed to affect, then there would be evidence that the practices uniquely improve those skills as intervention providers often claim. Sure enough, the different practices engaged different skills and mechanisms as predicted. The FA-only group, for example, reported much greater improvement in the ability to willfully shift or focus attention than the OM-only group (but not the MBCT group, which also received FA training). Meanwhile, the OM-only group was significantly more improved than the FA-only group (but not the MBCT group) in the skill of being non-reactive to negative thoughts.

Why do people in medieval art look bored or indifferent when being killed? (cross-post from /r/Art) : AskHistorians

I've been amused by this trait in pre-1600's european paintings all my life; people going through the most horrific injuries imaginable look as if they were bored with life anyway and their killer did them a service. It would have been easier to draw open, panicked eyes and flailing arms than just laconic, Eeyore-like pawns that die on command and without fuss.

Running and emotional regulation

Before watching the film clip, some of the 80 participants were made to jog for 30 minutes; others just stretched for the same amount of time. Afterward, all of them filled out surveys to indicate how bummed out the film had made them. Bernstein kept them busy for about 15 minutes after that, and surveyed them again about how they were feeling. Those who’d done the 30-minute run were more likely to have recovered from the emotional gut-punch than those who’d just stretched — and, her results showed, the people who’d initially felt worse seemed to especially benefit from the run.

REM launders emotion

One of the things that's been emerging over the past five or six years in the literature is that REM sleep seems to serve an almost sort of overnight therapy benefit in terms of our emotional well-being and our mental health. And what's interesting is that REM sleep chemically, in terms of the anuric transmitters that swirl around the brain, REM sleep is perhaps the only time during the 24-hour period where a particular stress neurochemical called norepinephrine or noradrenaline is actually suppressed and it's completely shut down from the brain. And it seems to be that REM sleep is a perfect chemical environment, almost like a therapy session, where you can take emotional events from the prior day and perhaps just smooth the sharp edges off those experiences, and almost like an overnight soothing balm, as it were.

Dreams integrate align experiences and emotional valences?

One proposed purpose of dreaming, of what dreaming accomplishes (known as the mood regulatory function of dreams theory) is that dreaming modulates disturbances in emotion, regulating those that are troublesome. My research, as well as that of other investigators in this country and abroad, supports this theory. Studies show that negative mood is down-regulated overnight. How this is accomplished has had less attention. I propose that when some disturbing waking experience is reactivated in sleep and carried forward into REM, where it is matched by similarity in feeling to earlier memories, a network of older associations is stimulated and is displayed as a sequence of compound images that we experience as dreams. This melding of new and old memory fragments modifies the network of emotional self-defining memories, and thus updates the organizational picture we hold of “who I am and what is good for me and what is not.” In this way, dreaming diffuses the emotional charge of the event and so prepares the sleeper to wake ready to see things in a more positive light, to make a fresh start.

Scientists identify brain circuit that drives pleasure-inducing behavior: Surprisingly, the neurons are located in a brain region thought to be linked with fear -- ScienceDaily

The researchers found that five of these populations stimulate reward-related behavior: When the mice were exposed to light, the mice repeatedly sought more light exposure because these neurons were driving a reward circuit. These same populations all receive input from the positive emotion cells in the BLA.

A man’s best friend: Study shows dogs can recognize human emotions -- ScienceDaily

For the first time, researchers have shown that dogs must form abstract mental representations of positive and negative emotional states, and are not simply displaying learned behaviours when responding to the expressions of people and other dogs.