2021 EVA Recipients & Projects

    Omer DarCultivating Internal Attention Through Intensive Mindfulness TrainingUniversity of Haifa, Mount Carmel Haifa, Israel
    Milan ScheideggerMindfulness and Psychedelics: A neurophenomenological approach to characterizaton of DMT-induced transformative experiences in long-term meditators University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
    Anna CiaunicaWalking with my Heart: Examining the Effect of Dynamic Real-Time Sensory Feedback of Bodily Movements and Heartbeats on the Sense of Self and Sense of Presence in DepersonalisationUniversity of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal 
    Anam Saifullah What Captures Your Attention? The Effects of Mindfulness on Attentional Capture and Attentional Blink with and without Emotion Brunel University London, Middlesex, United Kingdom
    Aude CardonaThe Motor Impact of Mindfulness Meditation on Voice Production University of Delaware, Delaware, USA

    Omer Dar – University of Haifa, Mount Carmel Haifa, Israel

    Cultivating Internal Attention Through Intensive Mindfulness Training

    In canonical Buddhist texts and contemporary contemplative theory, cultivating attention is an essential mechanism of mindfulness meditation training (MMT). Yet, empirical evidence therein is mixed. We propose that the discrepancy between theory and our data may be accounted for by the field’s focus on external- (e.g. visual stimuli) rather than internal- attention (e.g. thoughts, bodily sensations). We therefore explore whether studying attention to internal experiences will advance understanding of the nature and function of attentional processes in MMT. To test this thesis, we test whether a 6-days intensive MMT retreat (N=90), relative to matched-controls (N=45), impacts attention to internal experience; and how internal attentional change processes impact salutary outcomes of the MMT retreat. At pre-retreat and post-retreat, we measure attention to internal experience in 3 ways: (i) Digit-Categorization Task to measure disengagement of internal attention from simulated negative thoughts; (ii) Dichotic One-Back Task to measure internal selection bias to simulated negative thoughts, and (iii) Body Map Task to measure interoceptive attention and sensibility to bodily sensations in response to simulated negative thoughts. We use participants’ own-voice recordings of their idiographic thoughts to experimentally simulate the experience of thought (Simulated Thought Paradigm). Participants also complete the Mindful Awareness Task (MAT) to measure internal attention during mindfulness meditation. In addition, at pre-intervention and then 2-weeks post-retreat, participants complete self-report questionnaires of mental health and related outcomes. We hope that through innovative methods to measure and quantify internal attentional processes, findings will significantly advance understanding of salutary attentional mechanisms of MMT.

    Milan Scheidegger – University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

    Mindfulness and Psychedelics: A neurophenomenological approach to the characterization of DMT-induced transformative experiences in long-term meditators

    Motivation: Through their profound modulatory effects on neurobiological and psychological processes, both psychedelics and meditation have become indispensable research tools for the neurophysiological study of consciousness. First insights into the biological mechanisms of both psychedelics and meditation may unravel novel insights about their combined, possibly synergistic effects on brain function and mental health. 

    Background: One particularly promising candidate is N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a psychotropic alkaloid from the Amazonian plant medicine “ayahuasca”. First neuroimaging studies of ayahuasca share a striking similarity to brain imaging studies on mindfulness. After ayahuasca intake, long-term increases in openness and cognitive flexibility and elevated levels of mindfulness were reported. These findings suggest that improvements in mindfulness-related capabilities may not only be enhanced by meditation practices but also through transformative experiences induced by ayahuasca or DMT itself. These mindfulness-related effects of ayahuasca make the study of synergistic effects between DMT and meditation highly promising.

    Methods: We here propose an innovative double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, between-subjects study design that combines fMRI recordings with micro-phenomenological interviews in 40 experienced male and female meditators before and after the administration of DMT (up to 120 mg per session; 15 mg every 15 min) with MAO-inhibitor harmine (150 mg per session) or placebo during a meditation group retreat. 

    Objectives & Impact: The proposed project applies an innovative triple-fold approach to obtaining highly precise first-person accounts of DMT-enhanced meditation in experienced meditators and assessing their impact on brain activity and connectivity with fMRI before and after a group meditation retreat.

    Anna Ciaunica – University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal  

    Walking with my Heart : Examining the Effect of Dynamic Real-Time Sensory Feedback of Bodily Movements and Heartbeats on the Sense of Self and Sense of Presence in Depersonalisation

    Movement is life, and life is rhythmically punctuated by the hidden beats of our heart. We do not typically pay attention to our moving hearts and bodies. Yet our survival and wellbeing crucially depends on our ability to optimally integrate sensory signals coming from both inside and outside our moving bodies in order to interact with a wider physical and social environment. This project aims to expxlore the relationship between bodily movements and self-awareness in depersonalization (DP henceforth), a condition that makes people that feel detached from one’s self, body and the world (Sierra & Berrios 1997). We aim to conduct two experimental studies exploring whether a dynamic embodiment intervention, targeting multiple aspects of the bodily self simultaneously (self-face, body ownership, agency and interoception), may increase the integration of the bodily self in people experiencing DP. Indeed, people experiencing DP feel disembodied, not fully real, present or alive, and going through daily life like a robot on ‘automatic pilot’ (Perkins 2021). Despite being the third most common psychological symptom reported in the general population (after anxiety and low mood) (Simeon et al. 2003), DP experiences remain largely unexplored. We will use the ‘Magic Shoes’ innovative sensory device, developed by one of us, to explore the interplay between the perception of the body from within (heartbeats) and bodily movements in DP. Our project’s outcomes will contribute to further our current knowledge on this distressing and widely spread phenomenon, and to raise awareness around a condition that has been described as a ‘hidden pandemic’ (Sierra 2009). Joint efforts from philosophy, psychology and engineering will pave the way to potential new therapeutic embodied and dynamic approaches to DP. For example, by making people more aware of their dynamic bodily movements in order to alleviate the feeling of being statically ‘trapped’ and living in one’s head.

    Anam Saifullah – Brunel University London, Middlesex, United Kingdom

    What Captures Your Attention? The Effects of Mindfulness on Attentional Capture and Attentional Blink with and without Emotion.

    There is growing evidence for the beneficial effects of mindfulness on cognitive function, emotion regulation and mental health. The exact cognitive mechanisms underlying these effects are yet to be understood. One such possible mechanism is reduced ‘attentional capture’ by the salient stimuli, facilitating both more efficient attentional processing and emotion regulation. The main aim of this project is to investigate the effects of mindfulness, both dispositional and trained, on attentional capture by emotionally-evocative stimuli, as well as to elucidate associated psychophysiological and neural dynamics. The attentional blink paradigm allows to quantify attentional capture and attentional capacity. The Neutral Attentional Blink Task (NABT) will be used to provide a subject-level baseline of attentional capture and capacity in a neutral context (i.e. using stimuli that do not require emotional processing). The Emotional Attentional Blink Task (EABT) will be used to quantify attentional capture and capacity in a context of emotionally-evocative stimuli. Twenty-five experienced mindfulness practitioners and 25 healthy non-practitioners will perform NABT and EABT during functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. They will also be assessed using a psychophysiological model (prepulse inhibition) of automatic sensorimotor (inhibitory) processing. Further, the relationship of attentional capture with equanimity, empathy and mind-wandering tendency will be explored. This will be the first study to investigate the neural correlates of emotional attentional capture using attentional blink paradigm in mindfulness practitioners. The findings will aid the understanding of the effects of dispositional and trained mindfulness on emotion regulation via attentional capture mechanisms, providing further targets for mindfulness-based interventions.

    Aude Cardona – University of Delaware, Delaware, USA

    The Motor Impact of Mindfulness Meditation on Voice Production

    The study’s aim is to examine the quality (affective valence) of attention to internal sensations (interoception) and its potential impact on physical mechanical action (voice production) facilitated by mindfulness meditation training. Theoretical importance lies with literature in Kinesiology that shows degradations in motor learning with attention to internal biomechanics. However, that literature has not considered quality of attention in learning. This study will address that gap, using a neurophenomenological approach. I will examine 40 adult amateur singers who are novice meditators. Twenty participants will receive a four-week meditation training in focus of attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM) with an emphasis on the acceptance of interoceptive sensations during singing as they are, versus 20 participants who will be trained to focus on their interoceptive sensations as they should be during singing. Participants will be assessed pre- and post-training with mindfulness and movement behavior questionnaires (first-person measures), they will undergo fMRI imaging pre- and post-training to examine the neural correlates of meditation and singing (third-person measures), they will generate acoustic and physiological measures of voice to assess learning in time (third-person measures), and they will undergo micro-phenomenological interview (first-and second-person measures) to access pre-reflexive aspects of their experience. The study will generate data on the potential value of mindfulness meditation, quality of attention, on the learning of physical actions, voice production. The study will moreover contribute to debates on the value of an internal focus of attention during motor training and will impact educational and clinical approaches to voice training.

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