Short-term mindfulness practice attenuates reward prediction errors signals in the brain
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Activity changes in dopaminergic neurons encode the ongoing discrepancy between expected and actual value of a stimulus, providing a teaching signal for a reward prediction process. Previous work comparing a cohort of long-term Zen meditators to controls demonstrated an attenuation of reward prediction signals to appetitive reward in the striatum. Using a cross-commodity design encompassing primary- and secondary-reward conditioning experiments, the present study asks the question of whether reward prediction signals are causally altered by mindfulness training in naïve subjects. Volunteers were randomly assigned to 8 weeks of mindfulness training (MT), active control training (CT), or a one-time mindfulness induction group (MI). We observed a decreased response to positive prediction errors in the putamen in the MT group compared to CT using both a primary and a secondary reward experiment. Furthermore, the posterior insula showed greater activation to primary rewards, independently of their predictability, in the MT group, relative to CT and MI group. These results support the notion that increased attention to the present moment and its interoceptive features - a core component of mindfulness practice - may reduce predictability effects in reward processing, without dampening (in fact, enhancing) the response to the actual delivery of the stimulus.