Pain Attenuation through Mindfulness is Associated with Decreased Cognitive Control and Increased Sensory Processing in the Brain

T. Gard, B.K. Holzel, A.T. Sack, H. Hempel, S.W. Lazar, D. Vaitl, U. Ott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Pain can be modulated by several cognitive techniques, typically involving increased cognitive control and decreased sensory processing. Recently, it has been demonstrated that pain can also be attenuated by mindfulness. Here, we investigate the underlying brain mechanisms by which the state of mindfulness reduces pain. Mindfulness practitioners and controls received unpleasant electric stimuli in the functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner during a mindfulness and a control condition. Mindfulness practitioners, but not controls, were able to reduce pain unpleasantness by 22% and anticipatory anxiety by 29% during a mindful state. In the brain, this reduction was associated with decreased activation in the lateral prefrontal cortex and increased activation in the right posterior insula during stimulation and increased rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation during the anticipation of pain. These findings reveal a unique mechanism of pain modulation, comprising increased sensory processing and decreased cognitive control, and are in sharp contrast to established pain modulation mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2692-2702
Number of pages11
JournalCerebral Cortex
Volume22
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012

Keywords

  • lateral prefrontal cortex
  • meditation
  • pain modulation
  • posterior insula
  • rostral anterior cingulate cortex
  • ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX
  • PLACEBO ANALGESIA
  • PREFRONTAL CORTEX
  • FOCUSED ATTENTION
  • NEURAL RESPONSES
  • TERM MEDITATION
  • ZEN MEDITATORS
  • FMRI
  • MECHANISMS
  • EXPERIENCE

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