Studies assessing the relationship between self-focus and emotion processing are sparse. Evaluative self-focus may lead to attenuated affective response (Silvia et al, 2000), and is likely to be underpinned by dorsomedial prefrontal cortex activation (DMPFC). This is in contrast to non-judgmental, non-evaluative, present moment awareness which is the goal of Mindfulness, and likely to be underpinned by the anterior insula. This study examined evaluative vs. experiential self-focus using a standardised paradigm (Farb et al, 2007) with an additional affective probe manipulation consisting of images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS: Lang et al, 2005). Sixteen right-handed participants (8 female) were tested, 8 of whom were experienced meditators with a minimum of 600 hours meditation experience. These were contrasted with gender, age and IQ matched control participants. In line with our predictions, we found increased arousal ratings in the experiential self-focus condition. We also observed a tendency for participants with previous meditation experience to rate emotional stimuli more positively than those without such experience. Preliminary fMRI whole-brain analyses using in-house non-parametric software suggests increased bilateral anterior insula activation in the experiential focus condition and increased DMPFC activation during evaluative self-focus, consistent with our hypotheses. In addition, those experienced in meditation displayed less DMPFC activation than controls in the experiential self-focus condition. These data may be of clinical relevance for those who experience reduced emotional arousal and/or increased evaluative self-focus.

Emma Lawrence

King’s College, London