Norman Farb, Psychology, University of Toronto at Mississauga
Title: Being in the Body: Meditation, Interoceptive Awareness and Health
Ebbinghaus Empire Series 2014-2015
VIDEO RECORDING OF TALK
Abstract: Interoception, awareness of one's body, informs our sense of being in the world. Over time, we form associations between experiences and embodied responses, which act as a basis for conceptual self-knowledge, e.g., I like experience X but don’t like experience Y. This knowledge allows for the expectation of desired body states that promote rapid responses to unexpected physiological challenges. However, reliance on such expectations can be problematic in times of stress, when physiological perturbations are discrepant with desired states, leading to feelings of dissatisfaction and distress. Theories of emotion regulation offer several solutions, which amount to altering either the body states or expectations that fuel the discrepancy. Mindfulness meditation offers an increasingly popular emotion regulatory strategy, but it is unclear how mindful attention regulates emotional arousal to promote well-being. One hypothesis suggests that mindfulness involves “turning towards” experience: Through curiosity, openness, and acceptance, emotional experience is enhanced, and this attentional enhancement obviates the need for other conditioned responses. An alternative hypothesis is that mindfulness involves “turning down” experience, rapidly recognizing emotional perturbations and countering them with a relaxation response. In a neuroimaging study, we compared a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention against a Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) active control condition. Relative to PMR, mindfulness training more powerfully increased emotional acceptance, increasing rather than suppressing emotional processing in the brain, and better improving the ability to resist emotional distractors in our experimental task. These findings support the characterization of mindfulness as “turning towards” experience, suggesting that mindfulness and relaxation are effective but distinct regulatory strategies. Implications for self and clinical care will be discussed.
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