Mindfulness and Fear Extinction: A Brief Review of Its Current Neuropsychological Literature and Possible Implications for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

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Abstract

Research in the neuroscience of mindfulness has grown rapidly in recent years. This includes empirical investigations into structural and functional changes in several brain regions—particularly, the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala—in association with the practice of mindfulness. Of interest to the current paper is that such brain regions are also implicated in empirical research focusing on fear extinction. While fear extinction has, therefore, been suggested as one of the possible mechanisms to underlie the positive effects of mindfulness, the conceptual links and research implications have lacked specific focus and detailed discussion in the literature. The purpose of this paper is, therefore, two-fold. First, this paper briefly reviews the extant literature on the neuropsychological mechanisms underlying mindfulness—particularly that, which has been found to be similarly implied in fear extinction—and hence, suggests future research directions based on its current state in the literature. Second, this paper explores the implications of this for fear-based psychopathologies, specifically for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Discussion from this paper suggests the idea of fear extinction as an underlying mechanism of mindfulness to be one that is still preliminary, yet promising; in turn, elucidating the need for further methodologically rigorous study to specifically determine fear extinction as a result of mindfulness, as well as to incorporate neuroimaging techniques in supporting the existing literature that have found preliminary support of mindfulness for PTSD.

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