Recent evidence suggests that the effects of meditation practice on affective processing and resilience have the potential to induce neuroplastic changes within the amygdala. Notably, literature speculates that meditation training may reduce amygdala activity during negative affective processing. Nonetheless, studies have thus far not verified this speculation. In this longitudinal study, participants (N = 21, 9 men) were trained in awareness-based compassion meditation (ABCM) or matched relaxation training. The effects of meditation training on amygdala activity were examined during passive viewing of affective and neutral stimuli in a non-meditative state. We found that the ABCM group exhibited significantly reduced anxiety and right amygdala activity during negative emotion processing than the relaxation group. Furthermore, ABCM participants who performed more compassion practice had stronger right amygdala activity reduction during negative emotion processing. The lower right amygdala activity after ABCM training may be associated with a general reduction in reactivity and distress. As all participants performed the emotion processing task in a non-meditative state, it appears likely that the changes in right amygdala activity are carried over from the meditation practice into the non-meditative state. These findings suggest that the distress-reducing effects of meditation practice on affective processing may transfer to ordinary states, which have important implications on stress management.
Keywords: Amygdala; anxiety; fMRI; meditation training; negative emotion.