Anxious temperament (AT) in human and non-human primates is a trait-like phenotype evident early in life that is characterized by increased behavioural and physiological reactivity to mildly threatening stimuli1–4. Studies in children demonstrate that AT is an important risk factor for the later development of anxiety disorders, depression and comorbid substance abuse5. Despite its importance as an early predictor of psychopathology, little is known about the factors that predispose vulnerable children to develop AT and the brain systems that underlie its (...) expression. To characterize the neural circuitry associated with AT and the extent to which the function of this circuit is heritable, we studied a large sample of rhesus monkeys phenotyped for AT. Using 238 young monkeys from a multigenerational single-family pedigree, we simultaneously assessed brain metabolic activity and AT while monkeys were exposed to the relevant ethological condition that elicits the phenotype. High-resolution 18F-labelled deoxyglucose positron-emission tomography (FDG–PET) was selected as the imaging modality because it provides semi-quantitative indices of absolute glucose metabolic rate, allows for simultaneous measurement of behaviour and brain activity, and has a time course suited for assessing temperament-associated sustained brain responses. Here we demonstrate that the central nucleus region of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus are key components of the neural circuit predictive of AT. We also show significant heritability of the AT phenotype by using quantitative genetic analysis. Additionally, using voxelwise analyses, we reveal significant heritability of metabolic activity in AT-associated hippocampal regions. However, activity in the amygdala region predictive of AT is not significantly heritable. Furthermore, the heritabilities of the hippocampal and amygdala regions significantly differ from each other. Even though these structures are closely linked, the results suggest differential influences of genes and environment on how these brain regions mediate AT and the ongoing risk of developing anxiety and depression. Anxiety disorders are among the most common forms of psychopathology6, and frequently begin during childhood and adolescence. Although all children experience acute anxiety, children with AT display extreme behavioural and physiological reactivity to novel stimuli, and in the presence of strangers inhibit their locomotor activity and vocalizations3.. (shrink)
Emotion is normally regulated in the human brain by a complex circuit consisting of the orbital frontal cortex, amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and several other interconnected regions. There are both genetic and environmental contributions to the structure and function of this circuitry. We posit that impulsive aggression and violence arise as a consequence of faulty emotion regulation. Indeed, the prefrontal cortex receives a major serotonergic projection, which is dysfunctional in individuals who show impulsive violence. Individuals vulnerable to faulty regulation of (...) negative emotion are at risk for violence and aggression. Research on the neural circuitry of emotion regulation suggests new avenues of intervention for such at-risk populations. (shrink)
Attention to internal body sensations is practiced in most meditation traditions. Many traditions state that this practice results in increased awareness of internal body sensations, but scientiﬁc studies evaluating this claim are lacking. We predicted that experienced meditators would display performance superior to that of nonmeditators on heartbeat detection, a standard noninvasive measure of resting interoceptive awareness. We compared two groups of meditators (Tibetan Buddhist and Kundalini) to an age- and body mass index-matched group of nonmeditators. Contrary to our prediction, (...) we found no evidence that meditators were superior to nonmeditators in the heartbeat detection task, across several sessions and respiratory modulation conditions. Compared to nonmeditators, however, meditators consistently rated their interoceptive performance as superior and the difﬁculty of the task as easier. These results provide evidence against the notion that practicing attention to internal body sensations, a core feature of meditation, enhances the ability to sense the heartbeat at rest. (shrink)
The information processing capacity of the human mind is limited, as is evidenced by the so-called ‘‘attentional-blink’’ deficit: When two targets (T1 and T2) embedded in a rapid stream of events are presented in close temporal proximity, the second target is often not seen. This deficit is believed to result from competition between the two targets for limited attentional resources. Here we show, using performance in an attentional-blink task and scalp-recorded brain potentials, that meditation, or mental training, affects the distribution (...) of limited brain resources. Three months of intensive mental training resulted in a smaller attentional blink and reduced brain-resource allocation to the first target, as reflected by a smaller T1-elicited P3b, a brain-potential index of resource allocation. Furthermore, those individuals that showed the largest decrease in brain-resource allocation to T1 generally showed the greatest reduction in attentional-blink size. These observations provide novel support for the view that the ability to accurately identify T2 depends upon the efficient deployment of resources to T1. The results also demonstrate that mental training can result in increased control over the distribution of limited brain resources. Our study supports the idea that plasticity in brain and mental function exists throughout life and illustrates the usefulness of systematic mental training in the study of the human mind. (shrink)
For most of this past century, scholarship on the topics of personal- ity and emotion has emerged from the humanities and social sciences. In the past decade, a remarkable change has occurred in the influence of neuro- science on the conceptualization and study of these phenomena. This article ar- gues that the categories that have emerged from psychiatric nosology and descriptive personality theory may be inadequate, and that new categories and dimensions derived from neuroscience research may produce a more tractable (...) parsing of this complex domain. The article concludes by noting that the dis- covery of these biological differences among individuals does not imply that the origins of these differences lie in heritable influences. Experiential shaping of the brain circuitry underlying emotion is powerful. The neural architecture provides the final common pathway through which culture, social factors, and genetics all operate together. (shrink)
Background: Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) system activation is adaptive in response to stress, and HPA dysregulation occurs in stress-related psychopathology. It is important to understand the mechanisms that modulate HPA output, yet few studies have addressed the neural circuitry associated with HPA regulation in primates and humans. Using high-resolution F-18-ﬂuorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) in rhesus monkeys, we assessed the relation between individual differences in brain activity and HPA function across multiple contexts that varied in stressfulness.
Empathy is the combined ability to interpret the emotional states of others and experience resultant, related emotions. The relation between prefrontal electroencephalographic asymmetry and emotion in children is well known. The association between positive emotion (assessed via parent report), empathy (measured via observation), and second-by-second brain electrical activity (recorded during a pleasurable task) was investigated using a sample of one hundred twenty-eight 6- to 10-year-old children. Contentment related to increasing left frontopolar activation (p < .05). Empathic concern and positive empathy (...) related to increasing right frontopolar activation (ps < .05). A second form of positive empathy related to increasing left dorsolateral activation (p < .05). This suggests that positive affect and (negative and positive) empathy both relate to changes in prefrontal activity during a pleasurable task. (shrink)
Recent brain imaging studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have implicated insula and anterior cingulate cortices in the empathic response to another’s pain. However, virtually nothing is known about the impact of the voluntary generation of compassion on this network. To investigate these questions we assessed brain activity using fMRI while novice and expert meditation practitioners generated a loving-kindness-compassion meditation state. To probe affective reactivity, we presented emotional and neutral sounds during the meditation and comparison periods. Our main hypothesis (...) was that the concern for others cultivated during this form of meditation enhances affective processing, in particular in response to sounds of distress, and that this response to emotional sounds is modulated by the degree of meditation training. The presentation of the emotional sounds was associated with increased pupil diameter and activation of limbic regions (insula and cingulate cortices) during meditation (versus rest). During meditation, activation in insula was greater during presentation of negative sounds than positive or neutral sounds in expert than it was in novice meditators. The strength of activation in insula was also associated with self-reported intensity of the meditation for both groups. These results support the role of the limbic circuitry in emotion sharing. The comparison between meditation vs. rest states between experts and novices also showed increased activation in amygdala, right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in response to all sounds, suggesting, greater detection of the emotional sounds, and enhanced mentation in response to emotional human vocalizations for experts than novices during meditation. Together these data indicate that the mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion alters the activation of circuitries previously linked to empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli.. (shrink)
The overall goal of this essay is to explore the initial findings of neuroscientific research on meditation; in doing so, the essay also suggests potential avenues of further inquiry. The essay consists of three sections that, while integral to the essay as a whole, may also be read independently. The first section, “Defining Meditation,” notes the need for a more precise understanding of meditation as a scientific explanandum. Arguing for the importance of distinguishing the particularities of various traditions, the section (...) presents the theory of meditation from the paradigmatic perspective of Buddhism, and it discusses the difficulties encountered when working with such theories. The section includes an overview of three practices that have been the subject of research, and it.. (shrink)
This book examines how Western behavioral science--which has generally focused on negative aspects of human nature--holds up to cross-cultural scrutiny, in particular the Tibetan Buddhist celebration of the human potential for altruism, empathy, and compassion. Resulting from a meeting between the Dalai Lama, leading Western scholars, and a group of Tibetan monks, this volume includes excerpts from these extraordinary dialogues as well as engaging essays exploring points of difference and overlap between the two perspectives.