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Title:Executive function and emotion regulation as potential mechanisms of change in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
Author(s):Weldon, Anne L
Director of Research:Heller, Wendy
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Heller, Wendy
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Berenbaum, Howard; Hankin, Benjamin; Laurent, Heidemarie; Cohen, Amy; Dolcos, Sanda
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
mechanisms of change
Abstract:Having a psychological disorder is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States, and it is estimated that the lifetime prevalence of any psychological disorder is 46% (Kessler et al., 2005). The experience of co-occurring psychopathology is relatively common, and it is estimated that approximately 27% of adults experience two or more forms of psychopathology across the lifespan (Kessler et al., 2005, 2011). Research has shown that symptoms of psychopathology, including depression, anxiety, and trauma-related distress impact several aspects of self-regulation such as executive function and emotion regulation. It has also been suggested that such impairments in self-regulation are transdiagnostic and reflect underlying or latent factors in understanding risk or vulnerability to symptom presentation and course. Numerous therapeutic interventions have proven effective for reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma-related distress. In recent years, a “third wave” of cognitive behavior therapies has emerged, with interventions placing greater emphasis on acceptance and relational aspects of thoughts and emotions. This conceptual framework has supported the development of mindfulness-based interventions, which emphasize the cultivation of regular mindfulness meditation practice – a form of paying attention to one’s experience and adapted from Buddhist traditions – as a focus of treatment. Such interventions have proved effective in reducing risk for relapse in depression, as well as in reducing symptoms of anxiety and trauma-related distress. One intervention in particular, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing risk for depression relapse as well as moderate effectiveness in reducing symptoms of psychopathology in anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. MBCT has also been associated with improvements in aspects of self-regulation (e.g., executive function, emotion regulation), which have also been implicated as possible functional mechanisms that explain how mindfulness affects health and well-being. In recent years, there has been growing interest in identifying potential mediators, or mechanisms of change in psychological treatments (Kazdin, 2007), and this has become an important focus within the mindfulness-based intervention literature. However, few studies have examined how aspects of self-regulation – in particular executive function and emotion regulation – function as potential mediators in the associations between participating in a mindfulness intervention and reduced symptoms of psychopathology. This dissertation aimed to investigate the associations between aspects of self-regulation, psychopathology dimensions, and mindfulness in order to further understand potential mechanisms of change that may affect psychological health and well-being. Study 1 sought to understand the unique relationships between dimensions of psychopathology and self-reported executive function, and whether trait mindfulness mediates this association. Results suggested that anhedonic depression predicted worse shifting ability, whereas anxious arousal and anxious apprehension predicted worse focusing ability, even when controlling for trait negative affect. Mediation analyses indicated that anxious arousal was indirectly associated with worse focusing through reduced trait mindfulness. However, alternative models demonstrated that trait mindfulness was indirectly associated with reduced psychopathology symptoms through better shifting and focusing, and that focusing was indirectly associated with reduced anxious arousal through higher trait mindfulness. To address limitations to the Study 1 design, Study 2 investigated the temporal relationships between measures of executive function, emotion regulation, and psychopathology symptoms among participants randomized to MBCT or an inactive control condition. Results revealed that participation in MBCT was associated with greater declines in anxious arousal and trauma-related symptoms – but not executive function or emotion regulation – over time. A post hoc analysis also demonstrated that decreased working memory difficulties mediated the association between participating in MBCT and lower anxious apprehension. Taken together, these studies contribute to our current understanding of potential mechanisms of change in mindfulness-based interventions.
Issue Date:2020-07-09
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Anne Weldon
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-10-07
Date Deposited:2020-08

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