Social rejection is a distressing and painful event that many people must cope with on a frequent basis. Mindfulness—defined here as a mental state of receptive attentiveness to internal and external stimuli as they arise, moment-to-moment—may buffer such social distress. However, little research indicates whether mindful individuals adaptively regulate the distress of rejection—or the neural mechanisms underlying this potential capacity. To fill these gaps in the literature, participants reported their trait mindfulness and then completed a social rejection paradigm (Cyberball) while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. Approximately 1 hour after the rejection incident, participants reported their level of distress during rejection (i.e. social distress). Mindfulness was associated with less distress during rejection. This relation was mediated by lower activation in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex during the rejection incident, a brain region reliably associated with the inhibition of negative affect. Mindfulness was also correlated with less functional connectivity between the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the bilateral amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which play a critical role in the generation of social distress. Mindfulness may relate to effective coping with rejection by not over-activating top-down regulatory mechanisms, potentially resulting in more effective long-term emotion-regulation.
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This experiment was funded by grants to the last author from the University of Kentucky’s Center for Drug Abuse Research Translation (Sponsor: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Grant number: DA005312) and from the National Science Foundation (Grant number: BCS1104118).
Martelli, Alexandra M.; Chester, David S.; Brown, Kirk Warren; Eisenberger, Naomi I.; and DeWall, C. Nathan, "When Less is More: Mindfulness Predicts Adaptive Affective Responding to Rejection Via Reduced Prefrontal Recruitment" (2018). Psychology Faculty Publications. 143.