Abstract of my dissertation:
Emotions enable appropriate responses to relevant changes in the environment. To fulfill this function, they should be finely attuned to dynamic environmental changes. This attunement is likely facilitated by general flexibility and by emotion regulation strategies, including acceptance of both positive and negative emotional states. Accordingly, this dissertation has two parts. The first examines individual differences in small-scale affective attunement across different emotional response components. The second part examines the cultivation of efficient and adaptive emotion regulation skills through different meditation-based mental trainings. To address the first question, we developed a continuously evolving, threatening, immersive virtual environment in which we measured moment-to-moment changes in behavior, peripheral physiology, and subjective emotional responses. The results indicate that each of these response levels was highly attuned to the environmental stimulation. This attunement was strongest among individuals who were generally higher in autonomic and cognitive flexibility as well as resilience.
To address the second question, we used data acquired in the context of a longitudinal study, the ReSource Project, which tested the effects of three different meditation-based mental training modules which focused on cultivating attentional, socio-cognitive, and socio-affective practices. These modules had specific effects on ratings on facets of mindfulness, compassion, and emotion regulation questionnaires. In particular, the results indicate that the attention-focused training did not have broad effects beyond attention-related facets of mindfulness. The socio-cognitive training (focused on metacognition and perspective-taking) increased further aspects of mindfulness, including acceptance, and the self-reported use of rather cognitive emotion regulation strategies. The socio-affective training (focused on cultivating compassion toward the self and others and dealing with difficult emotions) had the broadest effects across mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion, and emotion regulation subscales. This module increased self-acceptance and decreased avoidance of negative emotions. These results support the notion that emotional responses are flexibly adjusted, depending on individual emotion regulation skills. Such skills can be differentially cultivated through different meditation-based mental trainings. The results have potential implications for diagnosing and treating mood disorders, such as depression, in which individuals are unable to attune their emotional response to the environment. Increasing acceptance and flexibility might be one mechanism behind the beneficial effects of meditation-based practices.
Abstract of my dissertation: