Trait mindfulness is associated with lower pain reactivity and connectivity of the default mode network

Richard Harisson, fadel zeidan, George Kitsaras, dila ozcelik, tim salomons

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Mindfulness-based training reduces pain in clinical and experimental settings. Evidence suggests these beneficial effects are facilitated via increased focus on the present moment, and reduced emotional enhancement of pain. The majority of the existing literature has focused on mindfulness as a learned skill, and on the neural mechanisms that underlie the acquisition of this skill. It is unknown whether similar mechanisms are associated with trait mindfulness in the absence of training and whether these mechanisms confer the ability to cope with pain. To determine this, we measured trait mindfulness and pain responsivity in 40 healthy volunteers naive to mindfulness meditation. As a feature of interest, we targeted the default mode network (DMN); a network of interacting brain regions associated with processes such as introspective thought, mind-wandering and rumination. As extant studies have implicated the default mode network (DMN), in the beneficial effects of mindfulness, we examined resting state connectivity of the precuneus, a core DMN node. Higher trait mindfulness was associated with higher pain thresholds (r=.43, p<.01) and lower pain catastrophising (r=-.51, p<.01). Consistent with the neural mechanisms of trained mindfulness, higher trait mindfulness was associated with lower connectivity between nodes of the DMN. It was also associated with higher connectivity between the DMN and somatosensory cortices. These findings are consistent with processes taught in formal meditation training, namely increased focus on sensory experience and decrease in emotional appraisal processes, indicating that behavioural and neurological mechanisms described in the interventional mindfulness literature also underlie trait mindfulness prior to any formal training. Perspective Mindfulness research mostly focuses on mindfulness as a trained skill, rather than a trait. Consistent with trained-mindfulness studies, we demonstrate mindfulness is associated with variations in neural connectivity linked to sensory & evaluative processes. These findings indicate that trait mindfulness serves as a marker for individual differences in pain coping
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Pain
Early online date27 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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