The ReSource Project

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At the Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Leipzig, Germany), I am also working on data 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 the following sub-projects that will be outlined in more detail below:
1) Behavioral and brain measures of pain perception and regulation
2) Relation between blood oxytocin and salivary cortisol pre vs. post meditation
3) Cumulative stress measured through hair cortisol / cortisone
4) Inter-individual differences in attachment and related constructs
5) Self-representation through short self-descriptions
6) Measures of well-being and health (IL-6, CRP, BDNF & telomere length)

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1) Behavioral and brain measures of pain perception and regulation
painOne fMRI task within the ReSource Project I am involved in analyzing aims at investigating how three instructions to modulate subjective pain experience derived from different meditation practices influence behavioral pain ratings and neural activity within a known salience network (“pain matrix) before, during, and after the 9-months contemplative mental training intervention. The three instructions were: (1) observing one’s breath derived from breathing meditation (BM-I), (2) observing one’s thoughts derived from observing-thoughts meditation (OTM-I), and (3) thinking of a loved person derived from loving-kindness meditation (LKM-I). 

The respective data is still being analyzed. A first tentative summary of the possible results at baseline can be found here (poster at OHBM 2016).

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2) Relation between blood oxytocin and salivary cortisol pre vs. post meditation
1200px-Oxytocin_with_labelsAnother task within the ReSource Project I am assessing has the goal to establish whether a loving-kindness meditation (LKM) changes the peripheral concentration of oxytocin and/or cortisol, and how these two biomarkers are related to each other pre versus post the LKM. Subjective reports of stress and the participants’ emotional state were also acquired before and after the LKM and will be related to the biological measures.

The respective data is still being analyzed. 
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3) Cumulative stress measured through hair cortisol / cortisone
072815_lw_hairIn the course of the ReSource Project, we also obtained hair samples from all participants at each time point before, during, and after the 9-month contemplative mental training intervention. In addition to measures of acute stress, a more cumulative measure of stress by means of hair cortisol / cortisone was derived from these hair samples before the training and after each 3-month module. 

I am currently involved in analyzing this large longitudinal data set.

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4) Inter-individual differences in attachment and related constructs
heart-1This research project I am working on within the greater realm of the ReSource Project is particularly concerned with the question of who may profit most vs. least from the Affect Module and why. As briefly described above, 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 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.

The respective data is still being analyzed. 

Related to this project I have recently co-authored a book chapter on the putative underlying brain substrates of compassion (versus empathy). This chapter aims at summarizing the available brain data on compassion by developing a neurospsychological compassion model, and to delineate 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).

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5) Self-representation through short self-descriptions
selfesteemWithin the ReSource Project, I am involved in the supervision the PhD dissertation of Anna-Lena Lumma. Together with Anna-Lena, we have in a first step looked at the influence of the 9-month contemplative mental training intervention on the participants’ self-concept through self-descriptions using the twenty statement test (TST) and by analyzing the transcripts of the latter by means of the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software. In a second step, we are trying to establish a link between the change in the participants’ self-concept and simultaneously acquired change in cortical thickness.

The results of the first step are published as an open access article in the journal Self and Identity.  The main finding is that the participants’ self concept selectively changes after the Perspective Module, which is associated with an increase in the use of emotional words during self-descriptions. 

The paper reporting the results of the second step are published in an open access article in the journal Brain and Behavior.

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6) Measures of well-being and health (IL-6, CRP, BDNF & telomere length)
healthWithin the ReSoucre Project, I am also involved in the supervision of the PhD dissertation of Lara Puhlmann. Together with Lara, we are assessing the influence of the 9-month contemplative mental training intervention on biological markers of well-being and health, comprising immune system functioning (IL-6 & CRP), neurotrophic growth (BDNF), and telomere length. 

The respective data is still being analyzed. 

 

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