michelle4-6 - Emotion 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1, 4353 2010...

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Cortical Thickness and Pain Sensitivity in Zen Meditators Joshua A. Grant, Je ´ro ˆme Courtemanche, and Emma G. Duerden Universite ´ de Montre ´al Gary H. Duncan Universite ´ de Montre ´al and McGill University Pierre Rainville Universite ´ de Montre Zen meditation has been associated with low sensitivity on both the affective and the sensory dimensions of pain. Given reports of gray matter differences in meditators as well as between chronic pain patients and controls, the present study investigated whether differences in brain morphometry are associated with the low pain sensitivity observed in Zen practitioners. Structural MRI scans were performed and the temperature required to produce moderate pain was assessed in 17 meditators and 18 controls. Meditators had significantly lower pain sensitivity than controls. Assessed across all subjects, lower pain sensitivity was associated with thicker cortex in affective, pain-related brain regions including the anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral para- hippocampal gyrus and anterior insula. Comparing groups, meditators were found to have thicker cortex in the dorsal anterior cingulate and bilaterally in secondary somatosensory cortex. More years of meditation experience was associated with thicker gray matter in the anterior cingulate, and hours of experience predicted more gray matter bilaterally in the lower leg area of the primary somatosensory cortex as well as the hand area in the right hemisphere. Results generally suggest that pain sensitivity is related to cortical thickness in pain-related brain regions and that the lower sensitivity observed in meditators may be the product of alterations to brain morphometry from long-term practice. Keywords: pain, meditation, Zen, mindfulness, cortical thickness Research on meditation and meditation-related techniques often emphasizes the positive influence of such practices on affective pro- cessing (Creswell, Way, Eisenberger, & Lieberman, 2007; Nielsen & Kaszniak, 2006). The cultivation of a state of equanimity toward one’s experience, the goal of many meditative practices, is tradition- ally viewed as vitally important to a healthy mind (Thanissaro, 2000). This Buddhist concept, more generally referred to as mindfulness , has been shown to influence a great number of indices, including those measuring depression (Ma & Teasdale, 2004), anxiety (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1992), immune function (Davidson et al., 2003), and pain (Grant & Rainville, 2009; Grossman, Tiefenthaler-Gilmer, Raysz, & Kesper, 2007; Kabat-Zinn, 1982; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, & Burney, 1985; Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, Burney, & Sellers, 1987; McCracken, Gauntlett-Gilbert, & Vowles, 2007). Consistent with an influence on affective processing, meditation has been found to have a positive impact on chronic pain patients (Grossman et al., 2007; Kabat-Zinn, 1982; Kabat-Zinn et al., 1985; Kabat-Zinn et al., 1987; McCracken et al., 2007). Over the course of 5 years, Kabat-Zinn reported on a group of 225 chronic pain patients who had completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduc- tion (MBSR) program (Kabat-Zinn, 1982, 1985, 1987). Follow-up
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michelle4-6 - Emotion 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1, 4353 2010...

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