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Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129


It is well-established that the practice of mindfulness meditation leads to improvements in mental health and well-being and the cultivation of positive emotions. However, the neural mechanisms of these improvements are largely unknown. A few recent studies suggest that mindfulness meditation impacts the structure and function of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and the amygdala. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that these regions are part of a brain circuit that is critical for the extinction of conditioned fear responses, and for the retention of fear extinction memory. Building on the overlap of these regions and on conceptual considerations, the project investigates whether mindfulness meditation could influence one's capacity to retain the memory of fear extinction. Meditation-naïve participants will be randomized to either a mindfulness-meditation based training or an active control training that controls for all mindfulness-unspecific components. Participants will undergo a fear conditioning, extinction and extinction recall protocol in an MRI scanner before and after the trainings. We hypothesize that participants who have practiced mindfulness meditation will show greater improvements in fear extinction memory after the course, and that these improvements will be correlated with anatomical and functional changes in the brain regions of interest. Improvements in fear extinction memory will also be related to improvements in self-reported psychological well-being. Merging the fields of an ancient spiritual tradition and a fundamental learning mechanism, the project investigates the underlying neural mechanisms of a practice for the enhancement of mental health and well-being.


Inclusion Criteria: 18-65 years of age Proficient in English Right-handed Free of medication that affect cerebral metabolism Able to give informed consent High stress level (defined as a score of >= 3 on the 4-item Perceived Stress Scale). Exclusion Criteria: More than 10 meditation sessions of any tradition in their lifetime, or more than 5 sessions within the last year. More than 10 yoga sessions of any tradition in their lifetime, or more than 5 sessions within the last year. History of neurologic or psychiatric disease, substance abuse or dependence that is current or within the last year. Major/chronic medical conditions History of head injury resulting in prolonged loss of consciousness and/or neurological sequelae History of seizures History of stroke Prior neurosurgical procedure Metal in the body, metal injury to the eyes Implanted pacemaker, medication pump, vagal stimulator, deep brain stimulator, TENS unit, or ventriculo-peritoneal shunt Pregnancy; breastfeeding or nursing Claustrophobia Weight > 350 lbs.



Primary Contact:

Principal Investigator
Britta K Holzel, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital

Backup Contact:


Location Contact:

Charlestown, Massachusetts 02129
United States

There is no listed contact information for this specific location.

Site Status: N/A

Data Source: ClinicalTrials.gov

Date Processed: August 31, 2019

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