The overall goal of the proposed study is to develop and test real time neurofeedback
(EEG-RTNF) as a tool to augment Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This study is
based on the theoretical model that (1) mind-wandering and self-referential processing are
associated with stress, (2) meditation redirects the wandering mind toward present-centered
awareness, (3) meditation also decreases activity in hubs of the default mode network (DMN)
involved in mind-wandering and self-referential processing, and thus (4) meditation leading
to decreased activity in these hubs should lead to reduced stress and improved health and
well-being. Milestones include: (1) test whether EEG-RTNF from the PCC during meditation
augments MBSR in novices; and (2) test whether MBSR with EEG-RTNF from the PCC leads to
real-world outcomes in reduced stress and improved attention.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an effective intervention for promoting
positive cognitive and behavioral changes for improved health. However, MBSR delivery may be
suboptimal. Recent work on potential neural mechanisms underlying the meditation practices
that are core to MBSR may be utilized to improve MBSR delivery and efficacy. The
investigators have shown recently that the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), a brain region
implicated in anxiety, addiction, Alzheimer's, ADHD, and other medical maladies, is
selectively deactivated during three meditation practices that are core to MBSR suggesting a
central role for the PCC in the neurobiology of MBSR. The investigators have also recently
confirmed that PCC deactivation corresponds with the subjective experience of meditation in
meditators. The proposed study will use EEG-RTNF from the PCC during meditation as an
innovative strategy to augment MBSR and improve outcomes.
The task of mindfulness—the principle component of MBSR—is to maintain attention on and
acceptance toward present-moment experience, and to redirect attention to one's immediate
experience when it has strayed. This present-centered awareness may be considered a
counterpoint to self-referential processing and mind-wandering. Consistent with a role for
the PCC in mind-wandering, the PCC is specifically deactivated during three meditation
practices (mindfulness of the breath, loving-kindness, and choiceless awareness) in
experienced meditators compared to novices). Supporting these findings, a research study.
showed that PCC deactivation during meditation correlated with a behavioral measure of
attention (the Rapid Visual Information Processing Task, RVIP) in experienced meditators,
suggesting that PCC deactivation is associated with improved attention in meditators.
Another research study showed that the PCC is deactivated when experienced meditators
mindfully view emotional images suggesting that PCC deactivation is associated with
emotional stability and enhanced present-moment awareness.
EEG-RTNF is an emerging technology similar to classic biofeedback in which individuals
receive moment-to-moment feedback of their brain activity during a particular task,
typically by a dynamic visual display (e.g., a graph).
- English speakers (due to instructions provided in English)
- No history of neurological disorder
- Ability to understand the study procedures and willingness to commit to the demands
of the study protocol.
- Remaining in the area for the duration of the study
- Willing to be randomized
- Prior participation in an MBSR course.
- Regular meditation practice (or any other form of meditative practice, such as yoga,
Tai Chi or contemplative prayer) for more than an average of 20 minutes a week within
the past 2 years
- Participants with a serious psychiatric, cognitive or medical disorder which could
interfere with completion of the study
- Unstable dose of psychotropic medication. Participants must be on a stable dose for
the past three months
- Use of antipsychotic medication or stimulants
- Current alcohol use (>14/week or >4 drinks at any one time for a male, or >7
drinks/week or >3 drinks at any one time for a female)
- Substance abuse (high frequency and problems caused) or dependence in the past 6
- MRI incompatible implants