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Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Neural Changes, Mechanisms, and Resilience

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2549 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Through heavy research, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been acknowledged for its benefits in participants of all populations and health conditions. Testing can be conducted on clinical and nonclinical patients and is shown to trigger neural activation in parts like the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and insula. This intervention aids patients with improving self-esteem, self-awareness, stress resilience, and more. Overall, mindfulness-based interventions are examined by providing participants with tasks while experiencing various technological techniques including an fMRI; allowing researchers to collect their data from these techniques. Though benefits are clear, previous studies neglect to show the true mechanisms behind MBSR rewards. With a recent study conducted in 2019, it has become more evident that monitoring and acceptance is an essential component of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction interventions.

Keywords:  mindfulness, neural activation, intervention, stress resilience, fMRI, monitoring and acceptance

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Neural Changes and Effects on Emotional Regulation

In recent years, the study of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has become more extensive as a result of booming technological advances and shown improvements in patients suffering from mental and physical conditions and people who seek stress relief. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has proven its neural changes in the brain with a systematic, 8-week training approach to attenuate depression, anxiety, and stress. However, research has shown the significance of the effects yet has been unclear about the mechanisms behind the training until recently. Through my research, I concluded that MBSR training tests do not only provide scientists with neuroimaging to get a closer examination of the impacts on the brain but allow researchers to learn the mechanisms that best reduce the participant’s stress. While having these findings, both articles from which I extracted information, clearly state that there are some limitations in the MBSR research. This paper documents both neurological sciences involved in (MBSR) screenings and high-quality processes.

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Neural Changes

When researchers analyze Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training in the brain, changes associated with introspect, focus, and emotional processing are identified (Hatchard et al., 2017, pg. 41). Mindfulness allows the body and mind to mitigate feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Also, MBSR is considered a key factor in reducing neuroticism and regulating emotions in participants. With the 8-week training, (MBSR) methods are systematically ready to teach participants how to foster a compassionate, positive mindset towards their goals, feelings about the world, feelings about others, and themselves. According to Hatchard et al.,

(2017, pg. 42), “The standard MBSR program consists of weekly sessions lasting between 2-2.5 hr.” Complementary to this, members of the training are assessed with a baseline and a posttreatment examination for data and a home practice.   The participants involved in the training are expected to depict the development of awareness along with acceptance; hopefully leaving little room for negative thoughts and rumination. As stated in Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 43), these mindfulness exercises were conducted on clinical and nonclinical participants to access an outline of both people with a physical/mental/social diagnosis and those without. These findings provide researchers and scientists with a well-rounded approach to how MBSR affects all types of training members mentally. The systematic approach that is MBSR offers the notion that clinical and nonclinical members can benefit from the treatment without approaching a pharmacotherapy.


Neurologically, a series of matters occur once the MBSR program has taken effect on the participants. With the assistance of neuroimaging techniques such as blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD), functional MRI (fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and voxel-based morphometry (VBM), Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 43) researchers were able to “investigate the impact of mindfulness training on experimental focus [and] present-centered form of self-reference.”   To conduct so, Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 43) constructed a randomized order of two groups: the 8-week MBSR group and the waitlist control group. Afterward, nonclinical participants in the MBSR group underwent experimental focus on topics such as descriptive words to characterize both negative and positive traits of personality. After both groups were

critically analyzed, results portrayed that MBSR participants had less neural activity in the prefrontal cortex and left dorsal amygdala (responsible for processing emotion in the limbic system) according to Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 43). These results allowed researchers to realize that “MBSR participants reflect a more objective, self-detached interpretation of the personality traits that were presented, rather than the more effective, self-referential interpretations made by control participants.” Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 43). What this means is that MBSR members showed a somewhat more unbiased, nonjudgmental mindset in comparison to those in the control group who expressed subjectivity. At this point, researchers can collect that MBSR training creates an increase in the dorsal anterior/posterior insula activation which reflects a “greater interoceptive awareness.”  Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 45). This awareness enables the mind to have greater cognitive processes during the experimental focus on interoceptive attention task as part of the Mindfulness-based training and creates an overall larger, more intricate connection with sensory networks and attentional processes that occur in the brain. In its entirety, MBSR training and home practices provide participants with enhances in areas of the brain that are associated with emotional regulation, improved decision making, and objective cognition/attention.  


Participants experiencing social anxiety disorder (SAD) were assigned to complete “a self-referential processing task while undergoing fMRI at pre-post MBSR training.” Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 47). Participants were shown to have reduced negative thoughts and increased self-esteem. In these studies, clinical participants were considered to either

have a social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, mind cognitive impairment, and chronic pain from an illness. Through thorough examination, researchers came to the finding that depending on what experiment they chose, whether if it was meditation, breath awareness, reward tasks, focused attention, or reacting to negative self-beliefs, neural activity and brain-related activation would increase/decrease at different instances since each task targeted a different trigger in the brain. However, what most studies can agree on and prove is that MBSR is beneficial towards reducing anxiety, depression, stress, and illnesses in clinical participants the majority of the time (Hatchard et al., 2017).


Stress-reduction interventions have been proven to derive benefits in clinical and nonclinical participants, but mechanisms seem to be a bit unknown. With my research, it has been made clear that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction aims to teach individuals (mental/physical health conditions or not) how to synthesize a position of acceptance and composure while being able to  target focused attention on current situations and experiences according to Chin et al., (2019, pg. 1). As stated by this source, a randomized controlled dismantling trial was undertaken to collect data on what skills are required to properly reap the benefits of MBSR. Researchers wished to “test the prediction that the removal of acceptance skills training would eliminate stress-reduction benefits of a mindfulness-intervention.” (Chin et al., 2019, pg. 1). Potential factors in MBSR such as acceptance skills can affect the intervention’s profits towards participants. Acceptance, in this case, included coming to terms with stress and approaching life with an objective perspective. Whoever was a member of this 8-week

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mindfulness training was placed in random groups including (a) Monitor and Accept (MA), (b) Monitor Only (MO), and (c) No Treatment (NT), (Chin et al., 2019, pg. 1). These trials consisted of a diverse demographic that participated in an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) in the format of a baseline and a posttreatment examination electronically. Chin et al., (2019) wanted to prove that acceptance skills were the vital mechanisms in decreasing stress and judgment while providing patients with optimal positive effects posttreatment. This insinuated that without acceptance, MBSR would seem to lose its benefits for patients. Stress was assessed daily on 3 days at baseline and posttreatment using EMA (Chin et al., 2019, pg. 3). This was done to provide more validity and minimize biases like other examination techniques. As depicted by Chin et al., 2019, pg. 3), monitoring and accepting play crucial roles in regulating emotions in participants and seems to result in driving stress resilience. For those tested in MA, participants provided ratings of how they perceive and judge their surroundings and themselves (Chin et al., 2019, pg. 4). This resulted in an increase in the content of daily life and a decrease in judgment towards everything in comparison to those in MO and NT. While the mindfulness-based intervention for those in MO was a bit modified to fit a non-acceptance skill training, MBSR remained structurally the same. After the trials with all 3 subject groups, researchers concluded that results in the baselines for monitoring and accepting for stress decreased and non-judgment increased at a greater level than the two other groups (Chin et al., 2019, pg. 8).

Scientifically, to prove that MA participants had greater reductions in present stress than MO and NT, researchers tested “hypothesized time by condition interaction.” (Chin et al., 2019,

pg. 8). In other words, researchers wanted to see if MA had a more effective interaction rate with time and condition. As a result of these trials, it was concluded that participants in all 3 groups showed a reduction in stress ratings from the baseline. However, MA led to having a greater decrease than NT and MO. According to (Chin et al., 2019, pg. 9). “(MA mean change =.85, p < .0001, d =.85; MO mean change =.58, p < .0001, d =.59; NT mean change = .45, p < .0001, d =.44)”. This proves that MA provides the most significant change in emotional regulation that the rest. MA remained constantly greater when stress was tested and solidified the effects by the interaction with time and condition.


One thing that both Chin et al., (2019) and Hatchard et al., (2017) have in common is the discrepancies that limit the study of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. A few types of research have been done to investigate MBSR from a level of a keen understanding of mechanisms and neural changes associated with what. MBSR studies are said to be in its infancy and its early stages of development.


Both articles suggest that although thorough research has been conducted, limitations in certain aspect like testing methods and concurrent measurements may restrict investigation of mindfulness-based triggers and mechanisms. According to Chin et al., (2019, pg. 14) using only attention monitoring is not enough for reducing stress the way that approval abilities show. One limitation in their study had to do with the fact that “monitoring and acceptance skills were not manipulated in a 2 x 2 factorial design that included an acceptance only training condition.” Chin et al., (2019. Pg. 14). What the author is trying to portray by saying this is that is hard to conduct

a mindfulness intervention without allowing patients to use attention or ‘monitoring’. As depicted by Hatchard et al., (2017), limitations have risen through their way of testing as well. For them, the diversity of people they had in their control groups restricted their capability to make proper comparison Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 53). Also, according to Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 54), their study had a lack of follow-ups to detect how long the treatment lasted and how often it needed to be done. Both articles critically state that due to the lack of experimentation in this field of mindfulness-based stress activities, barriers build up.

Conclusions and Future Study

Throughout my research, I have come to the hypothesis that regardless of the testing technique or group selection, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction provides efficiency at reducing stress, symptoms in illnesses, and a new perspective on life through the sources of meditation, self-evaluation, motivation, attention, and acceptance. Based on Hatchard et al., (2017, pg. 54), “Future studies should consider including multiple imaging modalities, such as fMRI, DTI, and VBM within the same study.” Research in the future should also consider all the factors that affect the credibility of MBSR. All in all, mindfulness training brings numerous benefits as it has been acknowledged for its benefits in participants of all populations and health conditions. While training mechanisms still seem to be somewhat unclear, MBSR testing has yet to uncover more in-depth neuroimaging and more.



  • Hatchard, T., Mioduszewski, O., O’Farrell, E., Poulin, P. A., Zambrana, A., Caluyong, M., Smith, A. M. (2017). Neural Changes Associated With Mindfulness-Stress Based Reduction (MBSR): Current Knowledge, Limitations, and Future Directions. Neural Changes Associated with MBSR, Pages 41-54.
  • Chin, B., Lindsay, E. K., Greco, C. M., Brown, K. W., Smyth, J. M., Wright, A. G. C., Creswell, J. D. (2019). Psychological mechanisms driving stress resilience in mindfulness training: A randomized controlled trial. Psychological mechanisms driving stress resilience in mindfulness training, Pages 1, 3-14.


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