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Understanding the Mechanisms of Well-Being Training in Adults with and without Asthma

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In recent decades there has been an explosion in mindfulness-based interventions, but we still know relatively little about the ways different types and durations of contemplative practice influence actual health outcomes. This study compares mindfulness training with general health training to assess the value or unique results various contemplative practices can add to mainstream health improvement programs. We are particularly interested in how contemplative practices could affect individuals diagnosed with asthma. If successful, the results from this project could be used to encourage the use of mindfulness practices, in tandem with traditional asthma medications, to achieve better asthma control. 

Study Details

Led by a team of researchers belonging to the Wisconsin Center for the Neuroscience and Psychophysiology of Meditation, this study examines the impact of two common meditation practices: mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation, also called compassion meditation. The study gathers data from approximately 270 participants from three groups: long-term meditators, participants with no previous meditation experience and participants with no previous meditation experience who also have asthma.

Participants with no previous meditation experience are randomly assigned to a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class, a health and well-being class, or a wait-list control group. Participants with asthma will be randomly assigned only to MBSR or a wait-list control group. Participants will complete many of the same measures throughout the course of the study, which will afford Center researchers and colleagues a comprehensive view of changes produced specifically by meditation practice, changes associated more generally with interventions designed to promote well-being and changes that may be the result of repeating tests across multiple occasions. The inclusion of both novice and experienced meditators provides a wide range of meditation practice experience within the study, allowing scientists to explore dose-related effects.

Project 1

Led by Center Founder Richard Davidson, this project focuses on the impact of mindfulness and compassion/loving-kindness meditation on neural, biobehavioral and hormonal indices of emotional reactivity and regulation. It includes a series of sub-projects focused on affective coloring, emotional anticipation and brain structural changes, with methods such as resting state and task-related fMRI, structural MRI, facial EMG and salivary cortisol.

Project 2

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects 7 to 10 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma causes substantial impairment that is reflected in the tens of millions of missed days of work as well as numerous doctor and emergency room visits annually. Individuals with asthma are twice as likely to develop depression and anxiety, which are associated with more frequent and severe asthma symptoms, especially for those under chronic stress.

Led by Center Faculty member Melissa Rosenkranz, this project investigates the brain and peripheral pathways to understand how psychological factors contribute to the expression of asthma symptoms. In addition, the study examines the effectiveness of meditation training in reducing airway inflammation and improving asthma control in asthmatic individuals through reducing the reactivity of emotion-related neural circuitry in the brain.

Project 3

Led by UW–Madison Scientist and Center Collaborator Giulio Tononi, this project explores the relationship between meditation-induced changes in brain activity during sleep and brain activity and cognitive function during wakefulness. Center scientists and colleagues are examining whether previously reported increases in gamma oscillations during Non-REM (NREM) sleep in meditators are associated with changes in mental activity during sleep.

Special thanks to the collaboration of the UW Asthma and Allergy Clinic and the Center for Sleep and Consciousness and Wisconsin Sleep, including Gina Crisafi, Michelle Wolff, Melanie Boly, Stephanie Jones, Brady Riedner and Rick Smith

People Working on This Study

Nagesh Adluru
Nagesh Adluru
Assistant Scientist, Center for Healthy Minds
Gina Bednarek
Gina Bednarek
Former Associate Research Specialist, Center for Healthy Minds
William Busse
William W. Busse
Professor of Medicine, Section of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Kara Chung
Kara Chung
Former Research Intern, Center for Healthy Minds
Richard J. Davidson
Founder, Center for Healthy Minds & Healthy Minds Innovations, William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry
Daniela Dentico
Daniela Dentico
Former Assistant Scientist, Center for Healthy Minds
Robin Goldman
Robin Goldman
Director of the Research Support Core, Center for Healthy Minds
Dan Grupe
Research Assistant Professor, Center for Healthy Minds
Jeanne Harris
Clinical Research Coordinator, Institute on Aging
Chris Harty
Former Associate Research Specialist, Center for Healthy Minds
Antoine Lutz
Antoine Lutz
Senior Scientist, Center for Healthy Minds
Elizabeth Nord
Elizabeth Nord
Research Specialist, Institute on Aging
Elena Patsenko
Honorary Fellow, Former Research Scientist, Center for Healthy Minds
Rosenkranz 9 Y9 A7418 Copy4
Melissa Rosenkranz
Core Faculty at the Center for Healthy Minds, Distinguished Chair in Contemplative Neuroscience, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Jane Sachs
Jane Sachs
Former Research Program Manager, Center for Healthy Minds
Giulio Tononi
Giulio Tononi
Professor of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Ajay Nair Web
Ajay Kumar Nair
Scientist, Institute on Aging
Tidwell Headshot 2023
Tawni Tidwell
Research Assistant Professor, Center for Healthy Minds
Claire laubacher web
Claire M Laubacher
Graduate Student, Department of Psychology
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