Mindfulness purportedly efficient for inducing extinction of fear reactions

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Over the years, research studies have shown mindfulness to be effective for mild cognitive impairment, affective disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. New findings from the University of Southern Denmark suggest it could aid in inducing extinction of conditioned fear reactions.

The team of researchers published the results in the journal Scientific Reports. For the study, the team recruited participants through advertisements, randomly assigning them to either four weeks of mindfulness training or to a waitlist control group.

“An emerging literature indicates that mindfulness training (MFT) can be used to treat fear and anxiety related disorders, but the treatment mechanisms are unclear,” the findings state. “One hypothesis, largely based on findings from neuroimaging studies, states that MFT may improve extinction retention, but this has not been demonstrated empirically.”

“To investigate this question healthy subjects either completed a 4-week MFT- intervention delivered through a smart-phone app or were assigned to a waitlist. Subsequently, subjects participated in a two-day experimental protocol using pavlovian aversive conditioning, evaluating acquisition and extinction of threat-related responses on day 1, and extinction retention on day 2.”

The findings affirmed the group that engaged in mindfulness training (MFT) demonstrated fewer spontaneous recovery of threat related arousal responses in contrast to the waitlist control group.

From the findings: “Results showed that the MFT group displayed reduced spontaneous recovery of threat related arousal responses, as compared to the waitlist control group, on day 2.”

“MFT did not however, have an effect on either the acquisition or extinction of conditioned responses day 1. This clarifies the positive effect of MFT on emotional functioning and could have implications for the treatment of anxiety and trauma related disorders,” the study concluded.

Overall, the findings supplied enough to validate how beneficial mindfulness training is on extinction learning, further studies, however, is warranted: “The findings provide some clarifications regarding the positive impact of MFT on emotional functioning and has implications for the treatment of trauma and anxiety related disorders, where MFT may be used as an augmentation strategy for existing exposure-based protocols.”

“Previous neuroimaging studies suggest that the observed effect may well be mediated through structural and functional alterations to brain regions related to safety learning, which remains to be investigated in future studies.”