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ECCS Research Projects

Compassion Meditation for Emotional Numbing in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

For individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the emotional numbing and isolation that are a core aspect of their suffering and consistently impedes remediation often remains after first-line treatments are administered. Few interventions have proven successful for enhancing the empathy and social connectedness that will ultimately allow patients to flourish, and the search for target therapies is made more difficult by the fact that very little is known about the underlying physiology of emotional numbing and social isolation. This study is designed to (1) investigate the hormonal, neural, and immunological biomarkers related to emotional numbing, and (2) test whether cognitively-based compassion training (CBCT), an intervention designed and proven to enhance empathy, will reduce emotional numbing and increase empathy and social connectedness in veterans. If you are interested please contact:

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for the Prevention of Perinatal Depression

This is a two-site study. Sherryl Goodman is the P.I. of the Emory University/Georgia site  and Sona Dimidjian is the P.I. of the University of Colorado, Boulder Colorado site. The overarching goal of this proposal is to develop and test a brief behavioral group intervention (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy; MBCT), which is designed to prevent depressive relapse and recurrence among high-risk pregnant women, with risk based on previous history of depression.

Effects of Meditation on Neural Processing of Stressful Stimuli

Collaborative fMRI project between Susan Bauer-Wu in the School of Nursing, Larry Barsalou in Psychology, Andy Butler in Rehabilitation Medicine, and others to explore whether meditation practice reduces affective responses to stressful linguistic stimuli.

Mechanisms of Meditation

This longitudinal study, headed by Chuck Raison, Teri Sivilli and Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, examines whether practicing compassion meditation will optimize physiological responses to psychosocial stress, with a focus on inflammatory signaling pathways and behavioral distress.  We will also evaluate whether meditation practice affects naturalistic speech and behavior in ways that enhance emotional well being and health - not just of the meditation practitioner but of other people in his or her social environment.

Real-time Dynamics of Cognitive Processing during Meditation

This project uses fMRI to explore different brain states that occur during focused meditation, with an emphasis on utilizing first-person input from the subejcts.  Wendy Hasenkamp is the PI on this project, in collaboration with Larry Barsalou and Christine Wilson-Mendenhall.

Project UPLIFT

Nancy Thompson has been studying the use of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for depression.   The MBCT intervention materials developed by Dr. Thompson and her colleagues are known as UPLIFT and are designed for group delivery.  The acronym stands for Using Practice and Learning to Increase Favorable Thoughts, referring both to mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Dr. Thompson's work focuses in three areas:  (1) using UPLIFT with populations at high risk of depression;  (2) distance delivery of UPLIFT by web and telephone to hard-to-reach populations; and (3) extending UPLIFT from use in depression treatment to use in depression prevention.  Her initial work was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  She is now funded by the National Institutes of Health and extends the use of UPLIFT beyond Georgia to Michigan, Texas, and Washington.

The Emory Meditation Practice Tradition and Experience (EMPTE) Inventory

Data from contemplative research continues to suggest that meditation-based interventions can have demonstrable effects on a host of psychological and physiological disorders. Despite these promising results, methodological issues, most notably the lack of tools that accurately assess research participants; meditation style and level of experience, greatly limit the reliability and generalizability of these findings. Thus, in order to address this shortcoming, our team (Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, John Dunne, Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Charles Raison, Nancy Thompson) has set out to develop the EMPTE Inventory, a self-report measure that assesses research participants' meditation experience in a particular contemplative tradition. This inventory, which relies primarily on common contemporary Buddhist-based contemplative practices that are commonly selected for scientific investigation, will help researchers more clearly define subjects' style of practice, control for variations between style and experience, and may also lead to new findings associated with particular styles of practice. The successful development of this inventory promises to enhance the methodological rigor of this field by aiding researchers in determining what subjects are actually doing during a particular meditation session.

When the space between your ears seems real: cognitive and neural mechanisms of mindful attention and stress

 Humans have to ability to become so immersed in the mental reenactment of stressful thoughts that the thought itself triggers a stress response and negative emotion.  Mindful attention can prevent individuals from becoming immersed in the experience of stressful thoughts and setting off a stress response.  In an fMRI study, Lauren McDonough is examining changes in brain activity associated with both immersion in and disengagement from stressful thoughts via mindful attention, and the relation between immersion and the subjective experience of stress.  Results of this project will inform why mindfulness-based stress interventions have a therapeutic effect. Learn more at: