Neural mechanisms supporting the relationship between dispositional mindfulness and pain

Fadel Zeidan, Tim Salomons, Suzan R. Farris, Nichole M. Emerson, Adrienne Adler-Neal, Youngkyoo Jung, Robert C. Coghill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Interindividual differences in pain sensitivity vary as a function of interactions between sensory, cognitive-affective, and dispositiona factors. Trait mindfulness, characterized as the innate capacity to nonreactively sustain attention to the present moment, is a psychological construct that is associated with lower clinical pain outcomes. Yet, the neural mechanisms supporting dispositiona mindfulness are unknown. In an exploratory data analysis obtained during a study comparing mindfulness to placebo analgesia, we sought to determine whether dispositional mindfulness is associated with lower pain sensitivity. We also aimed to identify the brain mechanisms supporting the postulated inverse relationship between trait mindfulness and pain in response to noxious stimulation. We hypothesized that trait mindfulness would be associated with lower pain and greater deactivation of the default mode network. Seventy-six meditation-naive and healthy volunteers completed the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory and were administered innocuous (35C) and noxious stimulation (49C) during perfusion-based functional magnetic resonance imaging. Higher Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory ratings were associated with lower pain intensity (P 5 0.005) and pain unpleasantness ratings (P 5 0.005). Whole brain analyses revealed that higher dispositional mindfulness was associated with greater deactivation of a brain region extending from the precuneus to posterior cingulate cortex during noxious heat. These novel findings demonstrate that mindfu individuals feel less pain and evoke greater deactivation of brain regions supporting the engagement sensory, cognitive, and affective appraisals. We propose that mindfulness and the posterior cingulate cortex should be considered as important mechanistic targets for pain therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2477-2485
Number of pages9
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Arterial spin labeling
  • Default mode network
  • FMRI
  • Mindfulness
  • Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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