Title

Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Stress-Related Inhibitory Gating Impairment

Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Psychology/Experimental

First Advisor

Howard Cromwell, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

William O'Brien , Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Sherona Garrett-Ruffin, Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Laura Leventhal, Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Abstract

This project examined how the human brain responds to stress and how mindfulness meditation can reduce stress-related sensory processing deficits. An early brain function called inhibitory gating is impaired in various mental illnesses. Inhibitory gating promotes healthy cognitive function, as gating is theorized to play an important role in the pre-attentional stages of information filtering in the brain. Inhibitory gating is evaluated with electroencephalography (EEG), in which the electrical activity of neural networks is non-invasively assessed via electrodes placed on the scalp. Gating deficits can be induced in healthy people for a brief time with exposure to physical or mental stress, which allows for the gating impairments seen in mental illnesses to be modeled in healthy people. Mindfulness meditation training has been a benefit to patients in various therapeutic settings, but treatments for gating impairment remain unknown. It is essential to target this pervasive deficit for treatment. In the current study, mindfulness meditation was tested as a technique to reduce stress-induced gating impairment. Participants attended four meditation training sessions and underwent a cold-pressor stress task twice; once at the beginning and once at the end of the four appointment experiment. EEG recordings were taken before and after the stress task. The results of this experiment show that mindfulness meditation training can reduce stress-induced inhibitory gating impairment. Two control groups completed personality surveys or progressive muscle relaxation exercises and did not exhibit reduced impairment after four sessions. These findings are promising in that they contribute to the wider understanding of gating impairment and its relationship to stress, and expand on potential treatment options by introducing a safe, low-cost technique with potential to reduce inhibitory gating impairment.