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Neuropsychologia. 2015 Aug;75:505-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.05.030. Epub 2015 Jun 22.

A shift in perspective: Decentering through mindful attention to imagined stressful events.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, Emory University, United States; McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, MA, United States. Electronic address: llebois@mclean.harvard.edu.
2
Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.
3
Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, United States; Center for Systems Imaging, Emory School of Medicine, United States.
4
Center for Systems Imaging, Emory School of Medicine, United States.
5
Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, United States; Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial (Bedford) VA Hospital, United States.
6
Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, United States; Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, United States.
7
Department of Psychology, Emory University, United States.

Abstract

Ruminative thoughts about a stressful event can seem subjectively real, as if the imagined event were happening in the moment. One possibility is that this subjective realism results from simulating the self as engaged in the stressful event (immersion). If so, then the process of decentering--disengaging the self from the event--should reduce the subjective realism associated with immersion, and therefore perceived stressfulness. To assess this account of decentering, we taught non-meditators a strategy for disengaging from imagined events, simply viewing these events as transient mental states (mindful attention). In a subsequent neuroimaging session, participants imagined stressful and non-stressful events, while either immersing themselves or adopting mindful attention. In conjunction analyses, mindful attention down-regulated the processing of stressful events relative to baseline, whereas immersion up-regulated their processing. In direct contrasts between mindful attention and immersion, mindful attention showed greater activity in brain areas associated with perspective shifting and effortful attention, whereas immersion showed greater activity in areas associated with self-processing and visceral states. These results suggest that mindful attention produces decentering by disengaging embodied senses of self from imagined situations so that affect does not develop.

KEYWORDS:

Decentering; Mental simulation; Mindfulness; Neuroimaging; Self; Stress

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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