Poster A10, Saturday, March 24, 1:30–3:30 pm, Exhibit Hall C
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Improves Fear Extinction: An fMRI Investigation
Gunes Sevinc1,2, Britta Hölzel3, Muhammed Milad1, Sara W. Lazar1,2; 1Massachusetts General Hospital, Division of Psychiatry, 2Harvard Medical School, 3Technical University of Munich, Klinikum rechts der Isar
Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) programs have been widely utilized to ameliorate psychiatric and stress-related symptoms, however the neural mechanisms that underlie the reported improvements are still largely unknown. Mindfulness meditation involves refraining from cognitive avoidance and thus provides a basis for internal exposure to aversive stimuli. Thus, we hypothesized that mindfulness-based interventions create a context akin to behavioral exposure therapy and thereby alter participants’ neurobiological responses to aversive stimuli. In a randomized controlled trial with healthy but stressed meditation-naïve individuals, we tested this hypothesis and investigated neural activation patterns during the recall of aversive stimuli using a well-established 2-day fMRI fear-conditioning and extinction protocol. Participants completed either 8-week MBSR (n=42), or stress-management education (SME, n=25) programs and behavioral changes and alterations in neural activation patterns from pre to post interventions were assessed. The MBSR intervention resulted in significant activations in left inferior frontal gyrus (BA 44) during the recall of extinguished (as opposed to unextinguished) stimuli, suggesting heightened control of memory interference, while SME intervention did not. Moreover, both interventions were associated with enhanced brain activity from pre to post in vmPFC (BA 11) and the hippocampus during extinction recall, and changes in hippocampus marginally correlated with changes in perceived stress levels only for the MBSR intervention. These results indicate extinction learning as a potential mechanism underlying the positive psychological benefits ascribed to mindfulness meditation. These findings may enhance our understanding of how meditation-based interventions work and the role of extinction learning in stress-resilience.
Topic Area: EMOTION & SOCIAL: Emotion-cognition interactions