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Mindfulness and De-automatization: Effect of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Emotional Facial Expressions Processing

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Past research has suggested that mindfulness training reduces automaticity while processing socio-emotional stimuli. The present study aimed to analyze how mindfulness practice may reduce the use of prior knowledge during the recognition of emotional facial expressions. Based on a predictive brain model, we hypothesized that mindfulness practice would reduce the top-down processing of low spatial frequency information.


This experiment compared the performance of a mindfulness group (n = 32) and a waitlist control group (n = 30) in an emotional Stroop task before and after an 8-week training course. The emotional Stroop task comprised two emotional facial expressions (joy or anger) topped with a congruent or incongruent word, and was primed by facial expressions filtered in two spatial frequency bands: high spatial frequency (HSF) or low spatial frequency (LSF).


Having measured the reaction time, the results showed a significant interaction between group (mindfulness vs. control) and session (before vs. after training; p = 0.04; R2 = 0.001), irrespective of spatial frequency channels. Breaking down the interaction showed that mindfulness-trained participants responded significantly faster than the controls to any type of information. The interaction Group by Session by Priming was not significant.


These results are in line with research underlining the effects of mindfulness-based interventions on global attentional control. More precisely, the global reduced reaction time did not support lower top-down predictive coding abilities specifically driven by low spatial frequency channels, but indicated a better general sensitivity to the perceptual environment.

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A grant was given by University Grenoble Alpes to carry out this study. We also wish to thank the Research Institute IRDC for their help in manualizing the FOVEA program, the training of the FOVEA instructors, and their help in recruiting participants for the study. We also wish to thank the SCREEN research service of the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Alpes, Grenoble, France, which gave access to the material needed for this research study.

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Authors and Affiliations



R.S.: designed and carried out the study, wrote the introduction, methods, and discussion of the article. P.F.: performed the statistical analyses and wrote the results and part of the methods and the discussion section. I.K.: contributed to the design of the study and the writing of the article. M.M.: designed the study, contributed to the data analyses and the writing of the article. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

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Correspondence to Rebecca Shankland.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants

The study was approved by the ethics committee of University Grenoble Alpes, France, and has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Shankland, R., Favre, P., Kotsou, I. et al. Mindfulness and De-automatization: Effect of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Emotional Facial Expressions Processing. Mindfulness 12, 226–239 (2021).

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