Enhanced response inhibition during intensive meditation training predicts improvements in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning

Baljinder K Sahdra, Katherine A MacLean, Emilio Ferrer, Phillip R Shaver, Erika L Rosenberg, Tonya L Jacobs, Anthony P Zanesco, Brandon G King, Stephen R Aichele, David A Bridwell, George R Mangun, Shiri Lavy, B A Wallace, and Clifford D Saron (2011). Emotion, 11(2):299-312.

We examined the impact of training-induced improvements in self-regulation, operationalized in terms of response inhibition, on longitudinal changes in self-reported adaptive socioemotional functioning. Data were collected from participants undergoing 3 months of intensive meditation training in an isolated retreat setting (Retreat 1) and a wait-list control group that later underwent identical training (Retreat 2). A 32-min response inhibition task (RIT) was designed to assess sustained self-regulatory control. Adaptive functioning (AF) was operationalized as a single latent factor underlying self-report measures of anxious and avoidant attachment, mindfulness, ego resilience, empathy, the five major personality traits (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience), difficulties in emotion regulation, depression, anxiety, and psychological well-being. Participants in Retreat 1 improved in RIT performance and AF over time whereas the controls did not. The control participants later also improved on both dimensions during their own retreat (Retreat 2). These improved levels of RIT performance and AF were sustained in follow-up assessments conducted approximately 5 months after the training. Longitudinal dynamic models with combined data from both retreats showed that improvement in RIT performance during training influenced the change in AF over time, which is consistent with a key claim in the Buddhist literature that enhanced capacity for self-regulation is an important precursor of changes in emotional well-being.

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