2016 EVA Recipients & Projects

Overview (click on the name to read the abstract)

Gabriel Axel Montes

Elicitation Interviews as a Contemplative Intervention: Insights from Stroke into Body Ownership and Agency

University of Newcastle, Australia

Carlos Garcia Rubio and Catherine Andreu

The Effects of Mindfulness Practice on Neural Correlates of Executive Functions in Elementary School Children: A Cluster-randomized Controlled Trial

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Chile

Britta Hölzel

Is the Neural Signature of Emotion Regulation following a 2-Week Mindfulness Intervention in Chronically Depressed Patients Characterized by Positive Fronto-Limbic Connectivity?

Department of Neuroradiology, Klinikum rechts der Isar, Technical University of Munich, Germany

Barbara Jachs

The Neurophenomenology of Meditative States: Integrating Neural Markers of Consciousness with Dimensions of Subjective Experience

Consciousness and Cognition Lab/ University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Gesa Kappen

The Effect of an Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Partner Acceptance and Relationship Quality

Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands

Anna Reebs

Mindfulness and Refugee Mental Health: Cross-Cultural Contemplative Science with a Social Mission

IRCA, University of Haifa, Israel

Michael Tremmel and Freya von Hohnhorst

Risks and Adverse Effects of Meditation

University of Giessen, Germany

Gabriel Axel Montes - University of Newcastle, Australia

Elicitation Interviews as a Contemplative intervention: Insights from Stroke into Body Ownership and Agency.

Stroke is a leading cause of disability, often leaving survivors with an altered body schema, a decreased sense of agency in everyday life, and difficulty coping with the changes. While the neuropathology and motor deficits of stroke have received much attention by researchers and physiotherapists, the phenomenology of post-stroke disability has hitherto not been subjected to rigorous investigation. The proposed study will first utilise the introspective method of an elicitation interview to assess the phenomenology of post-stroke body ownership and agency via the rubber hand illusion (RHI) and reach-to-grasp paradigms in stroke survivors vs. healthy controls using virtual reality (VR). Additionally, current interventions in stroke focus on rehabilitating physical symptoms using traditional physiotherapeutic modalities.  To this end, we propose a novel approach: using microphenomenological elicitation interviews in themselves as an intervention that establish a contemplative space for stroke survivors to relate anew to their body. Stroke patients with upper-limb motor deficits will be subjected to six sessions of either elicitation interviews, art therapy (active control), or physiotherapy (standard treatment). Prior to each interview session, participants will be exposed to a virtual environment that alters body ownership (RHI) and sense of agency (visual distortion of reach-to-grasp) using subjective and objective measures. Complex systems analyses of kinematic data will be applied to probe the relationship between proprioception, kinematics, and interview data. We anticipate that this experiment will serve as a touchstone study for the introduction of elicitation interviews as a second-person intervention into the neurorehabilitation assortment.

Carlos Garcia Rubio and Catherine Andreu - Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Chile

The Effects of Mindfulness Practice on Neural Correlates of Executive Functions in Elementary School Children: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial

Interest in the applications of mindfulness practice in education is growing exponentially. Recent research has shown that mindfulness practice in schools may be beneficial for executive functions, EFs, which are abilities crucial for socio-emotional development, as self-regulation and prosociality. The study of the effects of mindfulness practices in children on the neural correlates of EFs may provide relevant information about the impact of mindfulness-based interventions in children. However, there are no studies measuring it. The aim of the present study is to investigate the effects of a mindfulness-based intervention in elementary school children on the neural correlates of executive functions and their implications for self-regulation and prosocial behavior, in a randomized controlled trial. Children from four 4th grade classrooms drawn from two socioeconomically vulnerable schools in Santiago de Chile will be randomly assigned to either receive a mindfulness-based intervention (N = 50) or serve as active controls and receive a social skills program (N = 50). At baseline, post-test, and 6-month follow-up, a battery of measures will be administered to children. Data will be obtained via multiple methods (quantitative, qualitative), multiple measures (neural, behavioral, self-report), and multiple informants (children, parents, teachers). To obtain data for the neural correlates of EFs, during two EF tasks (Go/Nogo and Flanker), an EEG will be used to record the N2/P3 and ERN/Pe. Objective measures of self-regulation and prosociality will also be obtained. The results of this innovative study will contribute to the understanding of how mindfulness practices can promote cognitive and socio-emotional development.

Britta Hölzel - Department of Neuroradiology, Klinikum rechts der Isar, Technical University of Munich, Germany

Is the Neural Signature of Emotion Regulation Following a 2-Week Mindfulness Intervention in Chronically Depressed Patients Characterized by Positive Fronto-Limbic Connectivity?

Contemplative practice aims at the amelioration of human suffering. Mindfulness-based interventions have been increasingly employed in clinical settings to improve mental health. While a number of studies document their beneficial effects on symptomatology of chronically depressed patients, little is understood as to the neural changes that accompany these improvements. In a recent fMRI study with generalized anxiety disorder patients, we found that emotion regulation following mindfulness training was characterized by increased functional connectivity between the amygdala and various regions of the prefrontal cortex. In contrast to the typically seen negative connectivity during emotion regulation, we found a positive connectivity, and speculated that this might be a unique neural signature of mindful emotion regulation. However, more research in a broader range of samples is needed to establish this finding as characteristic of mindfulness-based interventions. Data collection for the project is completed. Data were collected from 48 chronically depressed patients, randomly allocated to receive a two-week mindfulness-based intervention, or matched resting control condition. Before and after either of the interventions, participants underwent fMRI imaging in a 3T scanner at the Freie University Berlin and completed an emotion regulation paradigm, for which they were asked to label the affect of facial expressions (angry, happy, neutral) with a button press on a remote. Clinical data were also collected and indicate that the mindfulness-based intervention was successful in reducing depressive symptomatology. Data analysis will be conducted with the functional analysis stream of the Freesurfer software package.

Barbara Jachs - Consciousness and Cognition Lab/ University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

The Neurophenomenology of Meditative States: Integrating Neural Markers of Consciousness with Dimensions of Subjective Experience

The wider aim of this project is to define phenomenological experiences during meditation and mind wandering, and map them to neural measures of consciousness and cognition such as information integration, information sharing and signal complexity.

We will perform a concept extraction and factor analysis, distilling phenomenological dimensions of meditation by gathering first-person accounts from a large database of phenomenological experiences. In a second stage we will validate the analysis against personal interviews with expert meditators.

Meditators using a focused attention meditation technique report their experiences along the previously identified phenomenological dimensions and moment-to-moment variability (along the dimensions of time and intensity), mapped then to EEG markers of neural integration.

To examine the phenomenological dimension’s dependency on overarching macrostates of the brain, we repeat the experiment with sleep deprivation, a systemic challenge to attention networks, creating greater brain network variability and reducing metacognitive insight.

Intermediate meditators will then report attentional deviations during meditation. We aim to compare focused attention meditation to a cognitive attentional switch task, allowing a careful analysis of the cognitive processes of exogenous and endogenous attentional switches, of sustained attention, monitoring and drifting. By correlating behavioural, phenomenological and neural measures, we hope for a description of these consciousness states when perturbed by internal and external attention switches. We will to explore the nature of thought intrusions and correlate the subjectively experienced affect, complexity, and temporal duration to the variability in neural markers of consciousness.

These investigations into the phenomenology of consciousness and meditation are an ambitious project aiming at reconciling the experience with the empirically measureable physiological information.

Gesa Kappen - Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands

The Effect of an Online Mindfulness-Based Intervention on Partner Acceptance and Relationship Quality

Relationship science describes several ways in which people deny shortcomings of their romantic partners, or try to change the other. Whereas these strategies sometimes protect relationship satisfaction, it has been suggested that these coping mechanisms may harm relationship quality in the long run. We suggest that the practice of mindfulness may foster an accepting stance towards the whole range of experiences in a relationship, may they be good or bad. In previous studies, we found correlational evidence for a positive association between trait mindfulness and relationship satisfaction via partner acceptance.

In order to investigate causality, we now propose an experimental study investigating the effects of a 2-week mindfulness-based intervention on partner acceptance and relationship quality. Two-hundred participants who are in a relationship will be assigned to either an online based mindfulness-based intervention or a relaxation control intervention. Before and after the intervention, participants will fill in self-report measures of possible working mechanisms (e.g. partner acceptance) and indicators of relationship quality. To see whether effects extend to the couple as a whole, partners of participants will fill in measures of perceived acceptance and relationship quality as well. Only little research has investigated whether and how the effects of mindfulness extend to people's closest relationships and most studies have been limited to cross sectional data on trait mindfulness. Also, the role of acceptance in the context of relationships has been neglected. The present project will provide a unique opportunity to examine more closely whether and how mindfulness and acceptance affect romantic relationships.

Anna Reebs - IRCA, University of Haifa, Israel

Mindfulness and Refugee Mental Health: Cross-Cultural Contemplative Science with a Social Mission

Refugees and asylum seekers, forcibly displaced by civil war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and hunger represent a tragically booming population and public mental health epidemic. Yet, only a small proportion of this population receives treatment, let alone interventions grounded in a strong evidence-base. The scale of psychological suffering due to exposure to extreme traumatic and chronic stress has led to global calls for rigorous experimental clinical research essential to guide the development of brief, effective, easily implemented, and cost-effective mental health interventions tailored to these populations. We propose that mindfulness may be a promising intervention approach to improve the mental health of refugees. Indeed, mindfulness training targets key bio-psycho-behavioural processes thought to maintain psychopathology following traumatic stress; and mindfulness-based interventions have not only proven effective in improving mental health outcomes in diverse populations, but are also highly disseminable, transportable, low-cost, and may be delivered to large and diverse groups of refugees. We therefore aim to test the therapeutic effects and mechanisms of action of a mindfulness intervention, relative to an active control intervention, on the mental health of refugee survivors of traumatic stress. The proposed multi-method multi-measure experimental research will make novel and important contributions to an emerging clinical psychological science of refugee mental health. First, the proposed research will provide a rigorous test of the potential for mindfulness-based interventions to improve the mental health of refugees. Second, in addition to advancing the field’s understanding of mechanisms of action through which mindfulness may contribute to recovery following extreme traumatic events, it will produce novel and important knowledge regarding the bio-psycho-behavioural processes that maintain mental ill-health in refugees.

Michael Tremmel and Freya von Hohnhorst - University of Giessen, Germany

Risks And Adverse Effects of Meditation

In meditation research, attention is directed primarily on positive health-outcomes. On the other hand, risks and adverse effects of meditation are hardly recognized. The project intends to answer the following questions using interviews and - based on that - a questionnaire survey: Which difficult, challenging, or unpleasant experiences are apparently triggered by regular practice of Buddhist or mindfulness-based meditation? How are these experiences interpreted by the subjects? Which actions are helpful in dealing with such experiences? Which factors, with regards to the person and/or meditation practice, encourage the occurrence of such experiences; what theory can explain their occurrence? How do people in charge of Buddhist meditation centers and providers of mindfulness-based methods try to prevent the occurrence of such experiences; what actions do those people in charge and providers take when such experiences occur, and which actions are helpful in dealing with such experiences? How do executives in the health system deal with such experiences? How do patients with such experiences see their course of treatment? Since this is early basic research, qualitative methods are applied in the first phase of the project (sampling, interviews, and analysis according to grounded theory method). In the second phase of the project, a questionnaire will be developed, distributed and analyzed, in order to test whether the qualitative findings are corroborated by the quantitative data. The analysis of correlations in a larger sample (one assessment) provides the basis for a prospective study with participants of mindfulness-based interventions (longitudinal assessment at four points in time).