The ReSource Project

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At the former Department of Social Neuroscience (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences Leipzig, Germany), data was acquired within the unique large-scale longitudinal ReSource Project. General information on the ReSource project is available on the project’s website and on ResearchGate. In short, a large set of psychological, behavioral, biological, and physiological (including brain imaging) measures was acquired in N= 332 healthy participants aged 20-55 before, during, and after a 9-month contemplative mental training intervention consisting of three 3-month modules cultivating attention & body awareness (Presence Module), perspective taking on the self and others (Perspective Module), and pro-social emotions such as empathy and compassion & dealing with difficult emotions (Affect Module).

Within the ReSource Project, I am involved in data analysis of the following sub-projects that will be outlined in more detail below:
1) Relation between blood oxytocin and salivary cortisol pre vs. post meditation
2) Cumulative stress measured through hair cortisol / cortisone
3) Inter-individual differences in attachment and related constructs
4) Self-representation through short self-descriptions
5) Measures of well-being and health (IL-6, CRP, BDNF & telomere length)


1) Relation between blood oxytocin and salivary cortisol pre vs. post meditation

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Research question: Does loving-kindness meditation (LKM) change the peripheral concentration of oxytocin and/or cortisol, and how are these two biomarkers related to each other pre versus post the LKM? Furthermore, how do subjective reports of stress and the participants’ emotional state before and after the LKM relate to  biological measures?

A first paper on some of these measures is already available: Przyrembel, M.*, Vrtička, P.*, Engert, V., & Singer, T. (2019). Loving-Kindness-Meditation – A Queen of Hearts? A Physio-Phenomenological Investigation on the Variety of ExperienceJournal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 26, Numbers 7-8, pp. 95-129. (*= these authors share first authorship) [link].

Other data is still being analyzed. 


2) Cumulative stress measured through hair cortisol / cortisone

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Research question: How did the ReSource training affect a cumulative measure of stress as assessed by hair samples? And how does this biological marker of chronic stress relate to subjective reports of stress and well-being?

This longitudinal data set was analyzed in collaboration with my PhD student Lara Puhlmann and is currently under review.


3) Inter-individual differences in attachment and related constructs

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Research question: Are inter-individual differences in the way we relate to people related to outcomes of the ReSource training? Or more concretely, who may profit most vs. least from the Affect Module and why?
The Affect Module mainly trained pro-social emotions such as empathy and compassion & dealing with difficult emotions, and contained a loving-kindness meditation (LKM) as one principal component. By employing an attachment theory perspective, I am trying to establish inter-individual difference factors that may predict participants’ susceptibility to Affect training – including their attachment style (and related constructs such as the parental bonding index), but also other relevant personality and other measures.


A first paper on some of these measures is already available: Przyrembel, M.*, Vrtička, P.*, Engert, V., & Singer, T. (2019). Loving-Kindness-Meditation – A Queen of Hearts? A Physio-Phenomenological Investigation on the Variety of ExperienceJournal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 26, Numbers 7-8, pp. 95-129. (*= these authors share first authorship) [link]. 

The remaining data is still being analyzed. 

Related to this project, I have co-authored a book chapter on the putative underlying brain substrates of compassion (versus empathy). This chapter  summarizes the available brain data on compassion by developing a neuropsychological compassion model, and delineates some possible future directions of neuroscientific compassion research, particularly related to compassion training.

The chapter was published in the book “Compassion: Concepts, Research and Applications” edited by Paul Gilbert (Routledge): Vrtička, P., Favre, P., & Singer, T. (2017). Compassion and the brain. In: Compassion: Concepts, Research and Applications. Editor: Paul Gilbert. Routledge; 1st edition. [link]


4) Self-representation through short self-descriptions

selfesteem

Research question: How does the ReSource training influence participants’ self-concept (assessed by means of self-descriptions using the twenty statement test (TST) and analyzing by using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software)? Furthermore, how do these self-descriptions relate to brain structure (cortical thickness)?

Together with my PhD student Anna-Lena Lumma we published two articles on this research question:

•Lumma, A.-L., Böckler-Raettig, A., Vrtička, P., Singer, T. (published online March 5, 2017). Who am I? Differential Effects of Three Contemplative Mental Trainings on Emotional Word Use in Self-DescriptionsSelf and Identity, 16(5), 607-628. OPEN ACCESS [link]


•Lumma, A.-L., Valk, S., Böckler-Raettig, A., Vrtička, P., Singer, T. (2018; first published online March 13). Change in Emotional Self-Concept following Socio-Cognitive Training relates to Structural Plasticity of the Prefrontal Cortex. Brain and Behavior. 2018;e00940. DOI: 10.1002/brb3.940. OPEN ACCESS [link]


5) Measures of well-being and health (IL-6, CRP, BDNF & telomere length)

health

Research Question: How does the ReSource training influence biological markers of well-being an health?

This is the work of my PhD student Lara Puhlmann. She is testing how the ReSource training affects:
i)  immune system functioning (blood concentrations of IL-6 and hsCRP); and
ii) change in telomere lenght and how telomere lenght in general related to brain structure (cortical thickness); and
iii) peripheral concentrations of BDNF and how these relate to brain structure (cortical thickness & subcortical volume).


A first paper on telomere lenght change and its association with brain structure (cortical thickness) has just been accepted: Puhlmann, L. M. C., Valk, S. S., Engert, V., Bernhardt, B. C., Lin, J., Epel, E. S., Vrtička, P.*, Singer, T.* (2019).  Short-term change in leukocyte telomere length: relation to cortical thickness and effects of mental training. A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Network Open(*= these authors share senior authorship) [link

A second paper on  the association between hippocampal structure and serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in healthy adults has just been accepted as “Stage 1” of a registered report: Puhlmann, L. M. C., Linz, R., Valk, S. M., Vrtička, P., der Wael, R. V., Bernasconi, A., Bernasconi, N., Caldairou, B., Papassotiriou, I., Chrousos, G. P., Bernhardt, B. C., Singer, T., Engert, V. (Stage 1 accepted August 22, 2019). The association between hippocampal structure and serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in healthy adults: a registered report.  NeuroImage (Special Issue on “Registered Reports in Neuroimaging“). [link to OSF page].

A third paper on immune system functioning is currently under revision. 

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