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Author Notes:

Address correspondence to: Lauren A. M. Lebois, McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA 02478, Email: llebois@mclean.harvard.edu, http://laurenamcdonough.weebly.com

LAML, LWB, EKP, LFB, KG, and KQ developed the initial study concept and design.

LAML played the primary role in implementing, running, and analyzing the experiment in the Barsalou Lab at Emory University.

LWB played central roles in implementing the experiment, analyzing the results, and managing the project.

KG and RC also played central roles in implementing the procedure.

KG played a leading role in developing and implementing the analyses.

VK assisted with programming related to a preliminary imaging preprocessing analysis.

KQ and RC played central roles in analysis and interpretation of peripheral physiological data not reported in this manuscript.

LAML, LWB, EKP, LFB, and KG contributed to the interpretation of the results.

LAML, and LWB drafted the manuscript, and all authors contributed to revising it.

LWB and LFB are joint senior authors.

All authors approved the final version for submission.

We are grateful to David Almeida for sharing his stressor database, Taryn Colton, Hailey Friedman, and Bridget Warren for assistance with sampling the stressful life events, Michael Larche for assistance with MRI set up, Wendy Hasenkamp for assistance with an earlier design of this experiment, and Robyn Fivush, Jim Rilling, Kim Wallen, and Christine Wilson-Mendenhall for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.


Research Funding:

This work was supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institute of Health with a predoctoral Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award to LAML at Emory University (grant numbers 1 F31 AT007130-01, 5 F31 AT007130-02), and by a National Institute of Health Director’s Pioneer Award to LFB at Northeastern University (grant number DPI OD003312), with a sub-contract to LWB at Emory University.


  • Science & Technology
  • Social Sciences
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Neurosciences
  • Psychology, Experimental
  • Neurosciences & Neurology
  • Psychology
  • Decentering
  • Mental simulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Neuroimaging
  • Self
  • Stress
  • SELF

A shift in perspective: Decentering through mindful attention to imagined stressful events


Journal Title:



Volume 75


, Pages 505-524

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Ruminative thoughts about a stressful event can seem subjectively real, as if the imagined event were happening in the moment. One possibility is that this subjective realism results from simulating the self as engaged in the stressful event (immersion). If so, then the process of decentering-disengaging the self from the event-should reduce the subjective realism associated with immersion, and therefore perceived stressfulness. To assess this account of decentering, we taught non-meditators a strategy for disengaging from imagined events, simply viewing these events as transient mental states (mindful attention). In a subsequent neuroimaging session, participants imagined stressful and non-stressful events, while either immersing themselves or adopting mindful attention. In conjunction analyses, mindful attention down-regulated the processing of stressful events relative to baseline, whereas immersion up-regulated their processing. In direct contrasts between mindful attention and immersion, mindful attention showed greater activity in brain areas associated with perspective shifting and effortful attention, whereas immersion showed greater activity in areas associated with self-processing and visceral states. These results suggest that mindful attention produces decentering by disengaging embodied senses of self from imagined situations so that affect does not develop.

Copyright information:

© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.

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