Mindfulness is a process whereby one is aware and receptive to present moment experiences. Although mindfulness-enhancing interventions reduce pathological mental and physical health symptoms across a wide variety of conditions and diseases, the mechanisms underlying these effects remain unknown. Converging evidence from the mindfulness and neuroscience literature suggests that labeling affect may be one mechanism for these effects.
Participants (n = 27) indicated trait levels of mindfulness and then completed an affect labeling task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. The labeling task consisted of matching facial expressions to appropriate affect words (affect labeling) or to gender-appropriate names (gender labeling control task).
After controlling for multiple individual difference measures, dispositional mindfulness was associated with greater widespread prefrontal cortical activation, and reduced bilateral amygdala activity during affect labeling, compared with the gender labeling control task. Further, strong negative associations were found between areas of prefrontal cortex and right amygdala responses in participants high in mindfulness but not in participants low in mindfulness.
The present findings with a dispositional measure of mindfulness suggest one potential neurocognitive mechanism for understanding how mindfulness meditation interventions reduce negative affect and improve health outcomes, showing that mindfulness is associated with enhanced prefrontal cortical regulation of affect through labeling of negative affective stimuli.
fMRI = functional magnetic resonance imaging; PFC = prefrontal cortex; VLPFC = ventrolateral prefrontal cortex; VMPFC = ventromedial prefrontal cortex; MPFC = medial prefrontal cortex; DLPFC = dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.