In a new study, researchers found that merely a brief introduction to mindfulness helps people deal with physical pain and negative emotions.
The effect of mindfulness was so pronounced, they found, that even when participants were subjected to high heat on their forearm, their brain responded as if it was experiencing normal temperature.
The research was conducted by a team at Yale, Columbia, and Dartmouth.
Mindfulness—the awareness and acceptance of a situation without judgment—has been shown to have benefits in treating many conditions such as anxiety and depression.
But the team wanted to know whether people with no formal training in meditation and mindfulness might benefit from a brief 20-minute introduction into mindfulness concepts.
Participants in the study were tested in two contexts while undergoing brain imaging scans—one for assessing response to physical pain induced by applying high heat to the forearm and another for gauging their response when presented with negative images.
In both contexts, researchers found big differences in brain signaling pathways when participants were asked to use mindfulness techniques compared to when they were asked to respond as they normally would.
Specifically, participants reported less pain and negative emotions when using mindfulness techniques, and at the same time, their brains showed strong reductions in activity linked to pain and negative emotions.
These brain changes did not occur in the prefrontal cortex, which regulates conscious or rational decision-making, and so were not the result of conscious willpower.
The team says the ability to stay in the moment when experiencing pain or negative emotions suggests there may be clinical benefits to mindfulness practice in chronic conditions as well—even without long meditation practice.
One author of the study is Yale’s Hedy Kober, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology.
The study is published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
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