Emotion 2006, Vol. 6, No.

3, 392– 405

Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association 1528-3542/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/1528-3542.6.3.392

Awareness of Subtle Emotional Feelings: A Comparison of Long-Term Meditators and Nonmeditators
Lisbeth Nielsen
National Institute on Aging

Alfred W. Kaszniak
University of Arizona

The authors explored whether meditation training to enhance emotional awareness improves discrimination of subtle emotional feelings hypothesized to guide decision-making. Long-term meditators and nonmeditators were compared on measures of self-reported valence and arousal, skin conductance response (SCR), and facial electromyography (EMG) to masked and nonmasked emotional pictures, and on measures of heartbeat detection and self-reported emotional awareness. Groups responded similarly to nonmasked pictures. In the masked condition, only controls showed discrimination in valence self-reports. However, meditators reported greater emotional clarity than controls, and meditators with higher clarity had reduced arousal and improved valence discrimination in the masked condition. These findings provide qualified support for the somatic marker hypothesis and suggest that meditation may influence how emotionally ambiguous information is processed, regulated, and represented in conscious awareness. Keywords: meditation, emotion, visual masking, subjective experience, somatic marker hypothesis

When selecting between two competing options, a rational tally of pros and cons often fails to identify a definitive choice. Rather, subtle conscious emotional intuitions may guide decisions. The somatic marker hypothesis (Bechara, Damasio, Tranel, & Damasio, 1997; Damasio, 1994) proposes that emotions affect decision-making processes by signaling the goodness or badness of possible future outcomes. This process may be particularly important when the best option is uncertain. When people experience emotions in judgment or decision tasks, they typically attribute their feelings to task context features, unless given good reasons to do otherwise (Clore & Parrott, 1991; Schwarz & Clore, 1983). However, evidence from a gambling task suggests that, even in an impoverished context in which information about costs, benefits, and probability is not explicitly represented, emotionally informative signals of the goodness or badness of particular choices can nonetheless arise in the form of physiologic responses and conscious hunches regarding anticipated outcomes (Bechara et al., 1997). Such signals are thought to arise through preattentive evaluative processing of emotionally relevant

Lisbeth Nielsen, Behavioral and Social Research Program, National Institute on Aging; Alfred W. Kaszniak, Department of Psychology, University of Arizona. We thank John Allen, Ken Forster, Lynn Nadel, and Richard Lane at the University of Arizona, Shinzen Young, and Laura Carstensen and members of the Life span Development Lab at Stanford University for their suggestions and comments on earlier versions of this paper. We would also like to thank research assistants Brian David, Lindsey Littrell, and Katja Harle for their tireless contributions to this project. This research was carried out as part of the dissertation research of LN at the University of Arizona and funded by a University of Arizona Center for Consciousness Studies/Fetzer Institute Small Research Grant to LN and AK. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lis Nielsen, Behavioral and Social Research Program, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, 7201 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 533, Bethesda, MD 20892-9205. E-mail: nielsenli@nia.nih.gov 392

features of the context. These processes could influence behavior with or without the mediation of conscious feelings. On the one hand, an unconscious physiological or evaluative change may exert an implicit emotional bias on behavior (Winkielman, Berridge, & Wilbarger, 2005). Alternatively, such unconscious emotional processes may give rise to conscious feelings, which are then referenced when making a choice. Making volitional choices on the basis of subtle changes in conscious emotional feelings requires some means by which an option’s potential goodness versus badness is experienced. From a functional or evolutionary perspective, there is good reason to think that both the valence and the arousal of a feeling state provide important information to a behaving organism. Arousal signals the degree of self-relevance or uncertainty surrounding a choice or behavioral option, whereas valence signals whether a particular option is beneficial or harmful to one’s interests. Thus, the dimensions of valence and arousal provide a framework for examining both the phenomenal structure and functional properties of emotions related to decision making. In addition, individual differences in the ability to discriminate among subtle emotional signals along valence and arousal dimensions may have important consequences for adaptive behavior. Enhanced emotional awareness may confer a greater ability to access, accurately identify, regulate, and act on information conveyed in one’s feelings. The present study explores individual differences in emotional awareness at the very limits of consciousness, by probing awareness of the most subtle emotional feelings. The specific aims were as follows: first, to discover whether there is a difference in very subtle phenomenal qualities of good (approach it) and bad (avoid it) emotional intuitions elicited by masked pictures; and second, to determine whether there are individual differences in the ability to consciously discriminate among those feelings, and whether such differences are related to (a) emotional awareness cultivated through long-term meditation practice, (b) visceral perception ability as assessed in a heartbeat detection task, and/or (c) self-reported

2003). Murphy. Supporting research demonstrated that masked affective primes exert bivalent influences on preference judgments of neutral targets (Murphy. 2003). Bliss-Moreau. Individual Differences Why Meditation? Buddhist meditation has been claimed to enhance emotional awareness and control through extensive practice involving focus on the features and dynamics of emotional responses (Goleman. judgment. Although there is no empirical evidence to suggest that meditators are better at using emotional information to inform decisions. & Elmehed. elicit larger skin conductance responses (SCRs) and are rated as more negative and more arousing than nonconditioned phobic or neutral ¨ stimuli (Ohman & Soares. . 1970) to develop strong conditioned responses. Visceral Perception Ability Feldman Barrett (1998) has documented individual differences in the degree to which self-reports of emotion experiences emphasize valence or arousal and has linked these to individual differences in visceral perception ability. 1998. as evidence from Maxwell and Davidson’s (2004) studies with masked emotional facial expressions has made clear. 1998). 2000) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI. 2001). transformation. conscious cognition on the measurements of interest. Monahan. James. and meditation practice may strengthen such abilities. & Lundqvist. For example. Some evidence that preattentive emotional influences can bias behavior—with or without the aid of conscious feelings— comes from studies using visual masking. & Zajonc. aversively conditioned. years of training attention on the physiological and affective properties of emotional consciousness during meditation may result in heightened discrimination of emotional phenomenology in everyday life. A common Buddhist meditation practice involves carefully noting the emergence. accurate discrimination in a forcedchoice paradigm). masking provides a useful technique for testing the question of whether emotional feelings can be evoked. accessed. Aronson. However. in press). 1894/1994). 2000. Thus. and influence behavior in the absence of explicit awareness (for further discussion. & Ohman. Other studies have indicated that individuals with good heartbeat detection abilities report more intense emotion experiences (Wiens. Evidence of bivalent physiologic change in response to masked emotional faces has been found using facial electromyography (EMG. Dimberg. Other practices focus attention for extended periods on bodily phenomena such as the breath. & Katkin. a target stimulus is presented very briefly ( 50 ms). Self-Reported Emotional Awareness Finally. conscious cognition. some people simply attend more closely to emotions and possess a greater ability to describe and classify their feelings. There is evidence that individual differences in self-reported emotional awareness predict how individuals make judgments in emotionally charged situations (Gohm. Dalai Lama & Cutler. Monahan & Zajonc. fearrelevant stimuli. Esteves.. ¨ At the negative end of the valence dimension. 1995. whether emotional feelings actually provide information about the valence of options remains an open question. 1994. so that changes in physiologic responding. & ¨ ¨ Ohman. Visual Masking Despite claims about the advantages of enhanced emotional awareness.AWARENESS OF SUBTLE EMOTIONAL FEELINGS 393 Background emotional awareness as assessed by standardized questionnaires. and manifestation in awareness of the discrete components that make up an emotional state. for which we have a biological preparedness (Seligman. We hypothesized that meditation may influence self-reported emotional awareness and that individuals reporting heightened emotional awareness on standardized assessments would be more accurate at differentiating subtle feeling states. long-term Buddhist meditators have been described as possessing enhanced emotional awareness and improved emotional regulatory abilities (Brazier. visceral perception ability may be associated with enhanced awareness of subtle emotional feelings. Murphy & Zajonc. 2003). preattentive analysis of those features. Preattentive Emotional Processing Zajonc (1980) was an early advocate of the view that affective stimulus properties are rapidly processed and can exert global effects on preferences without the involvement of reflective. 2000) and more accurately predict shocks contingent on backwardly masked fear-relevant stimuli (Katkin. 2003) and that mere exposure to neutral items (even when subliminal) increases subjective liking (Kunst-Wilson & Zajonc. see Ohman. In visual masking paradigms. 1998). Wong & Root. 1994. Quigley. or emotion experience that vary along with features of an emotional target stimulus can be assumed to arise from the automatic activation of emotional processes based on a rough. Mezzacappa. 1993. 1980. Understanding the nature of individual differences in this ability may inform whether such skills can be cultivated through practices such as meditation or whether they represent underlying personality or perceptual differences. Whalen et al. 2000. masking allows for some experimental control over the influences of reflective. This is true even when awareness of the conditioned stimulus– unconditioned stimulus (CS-UCS) contingency is blocked using visual masking during acquisition of the fear response. and establishing unconscious perception in the laboratory remains an empirical challenge. Ohman and colleagues have shown that masked. To be sure.g. increased left-sided anterior electroencephalogram (EEG) activation (associated with greater positive affect) was observed after 8 weeks of training in mindfulness meditation (Davidson et al.. 2004). Consistent with theories of emotion that posit a central role of awareness of visceral states in the generation of emotional experience (Damasio. 2001. followed— and/or preceded— by a visual mask (a stimulus appearing in the same location as the target) to block or degrade conscious perception of the target to the degree that participants are unable or unwilling to report explicit awareness. Indeed. participants report experiencing negative emotions and accurately report anticipatory gut feelings of shock ¨ expectancy during this acquisition phase (Ohman & Soares. Flykt. Some behavioral and physiological observations of long-term meditators are consistent with this description (see Goleman. absence of explicit awareness does not preclude higher order cognitive or perceptual processing (e.. for a review). as measured by a heartbeat detection task (Feldman Barrett. Thunberg. 1994. 1998). Dimberg. However. Wiens. see Nielsen & Kaszniak.). 2003).

However. When comparing the percentage of statements containing bodily feeling reports that constituted descriptions of recent strong positive and negative emotional experiences. along with physiological measures. Monahan. long term M 24. but Winkielman. and Ohman (2001) reported that good heartbeat detectors are better at discerning such gut feelings. preattentive processing of cues with biological salience would give rise to discrimination in SCR and facial EMG. discrimination on all measures was expected to replicate prior findings. We also predicted that. Group Stimulus Type. and Wellens (1987) inserted positive. 2 male) in the Buddhist tradition and 17 nonmeditating controls (15 female. the percentage of bodily feelings included in emotional reports was negatively correlated with years of meditation practice (r .08) used bodily feeling descriptors more often than long-term meditators (M 16%. F(1. and Zajonc (2000) reported that repeated subliminal exposure to neutral stimuli can increase positive mood. n 16). Moreover. with pleasant and unpleasant pictures eliciting increased self-reported pleasant or unpleasant valence. We also explored whether heartbeat detection accuracy or self-reported heightened awareness of emotion conferred additional discriminatory advantage. than their long-term counterparts.4). Similar response patterns in the masked condition would be considered to be consistent with preattentive emotional processing. but will be reported elsewhere. and increased corrugator (unpleasant) or zygomatic (pleasant) EMG compared with neutral pictures (see Bradley & Lang. In addition.683. participants viewed pleasant. 2 . because the use of only negative and neutral stimuli makes it impossible to ascertain whether participants experienced truly aversive experiences or just heightened arousal—which they interpreted (in the context of receiving electric shocks) as aversive. however. with short term meditators reporting significantly higher levels of arousal 1 . 2 male) The Present Study In the present study. no study to date has assessed whether masked pleasant and unpleasant stimuli can be distinguished from neutral stimuli in terms of both arousal and experienced positive or negative emotion. p .05. Individual Differences in Awareness We anticipated that long-term meditators would be better at discriminating the subtle feelings evoked by masked emotional stimuli than controls. positively valenced) stimuli can also elicit both physiologic and subjective emotional responses preattentively remains unknown..05. we ran separate 2 Group (Short term. Long term) 3 Stimulus Type (Pleasant. if feelings cannot tell us whether to approach or avoid an option. short term meditators had significantly more correct responses on the heartbeat detection task.245. There were significant differences in experienced arousal between the five short term and 11 long term meditators. In the nonmasked condition. 13) 4. SD . 1998). Whether appetitive (i.524. and unpleasant pictures with biologically salient content in both masked and nonmasked conditions. 1994.554. increased arousal and SCR. for a review). a measure of visceral awareness. F(1. the essential finding was that participants with less than 10 years of meditation practice had a particularly hyper-bodily focused approach to describing their emotional experiences that clearly distinguished them from their longer-term counterparts. or neutral frames into three separate. 2000. subtle changes in experienced valence and arousal may be discernable. SD . Based on these initial observations. suggesting a greater attention to bodily states. because subtle shifts in feeling may be very brief and memory for them short-lived. 28) 4. negative.394 NIELSEN AND KASZNIAK ¨ More recently. SD 5. ECG was also recorded.e.005. Awareness of Subtle Emotional Feelings For the masked condition. and they proposed that superior visceral perception underlies individual differences in conscious awareness of subtle emotional somatic markers. short term meditators (M 33%. 2 . p . These provocative findings fail to fully address the question of whether feeling states can inform decisions. neutral. Evidence that preattentively elicited emotion gives rise to experiences of being emotionally aroused in a particular (valenced) direction is mixed.005. when attention is focused on changes in emotion experience on a trial-by-trial basis. p . SD 4. Carver. Neutral. Initially 16 meditators were tested. we predicted that. To the best of our knowledge. Unpleasant) repeated measures ANOVAs comparing short and long term meditators on our primary outcome variables: reports of experienced valence and arousal to masked pictures. In contrast to other studies assessing experiential responses to masked visual primes. 30) 7. film clips and found bivalent effects on anxiety ratings. These tests further confirmed that short term meditators were unlike their long term counterparts. retrospective reports may be misleading. and it incorporated concurrent trial-by-trial self-reports of experienced valence and arousal. Smith. As argued earlier.5. suggesting that the response to positive primes was qualitatively different from the response to negative or neutral primes.334. even in the absence of aversive ¨ conditioning (as used by Ohman & Soares. While a description of interview methods is beyond the scope of this paper. with length of practice ranging from 4 –29 years. Findings from videotaped structured interviews of emotional experiences revealed that this was not a homogeneous group as regards their approach to emotion experience. 2 . In accordance with evolutionary arguments for a biological predisposition to respond more strongly to aversive events (Cacioppo & Gardner. we anticipated stronger responses to unpleasant than to pleasant masked stimuli. but otherwise identical. Zajonc.272 (short term M 30. p . 2001). Wiens.846.10). and Schwarz (1997) found no evidence of awareness of subtle positive or negative feelings elicited by masked stimuli in retrospective posttask reports. Robles. they will be of little use in guiding decisions. Method Participants Participants were 111 long-term meditators (9 female. Rozin & Royzman. F(2.8.60. Murphy. Self-reported valence and arousal and physiological change in electrodermal activity (SCR) and corrugator and zygomatic facial electromyography (EMG) were measured. Katkin. 1999. Only one study has reported bivalent experience changes in response to masked emotional stimuli. the present study examined responses to stimuli at both ends of the valence dimension for which there may be a biological predisposition to respond emotionally.

Consequently. and vicious animals.2 Length of practice was uncorrelated with age (r . the stimulus then appeared for 3000 ms. SD . SD . 1052. 2344. there was a 500-ms delay (perceived as delayed. F(2. Katkin et al. with two pseudorandom stimulus orders counterbalanced across participants. 2341. 9070.49). Trials began with a 4-s fixation cross. Mezzacappa. Individual Difference Measures Self-reported emotional awareness was assessed using the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS. 5530. and the Difficulty in Identifying Feelings subscale of the TAS (reverse scored) as good measures of clarity. 1999). the tones were presented 200 ms after the R-wave (typically perceived as synchronous). 1200. SD 3. 1270. Forster and J. 4220 (for males)/4520(for females). Participants had normal or corrected-to-normal vision and no history of psychiatric or neurologic illness. 1301. unpleasant: 3168.70. SD . and the Monitoring subscale of the MAS were recommended as good measures of attention to emotion. 2165. 2050. and plants). Gohm and Clore (2000) provided evidence that these scales constitute good measures of two trait dimensions of individual differences in emotion experience: attention to emotion. Inc. and green saturation. pleasant. 3170.4 In pilot studies.27 years. Informed consent was obtained in accordance with University of Arizona human participants protection guidelines. and maximize their experience of emotion” (p.07. Goldman.29. Emotional Stimuli The experimental stimuli were 16 neutral–low arousal. p . 2383. SD 10. Masks for neutral. 5535. the brightness of some of the original IAPS pictures was adjusted using image-processing software. 28) 2. controls: M 54. Each session included eight catch trials with no emotional content (masked masks) to assess discrimination accuracy and bias. 2 . and the Emotional Creativity Scale (ECS. 1274.99. 3060). 2160. these individuals were excluded from analyses reported here. Participants received $30 in compensation. The task consisted of 50 trials of 10 tones triggered by the R-wave of 10 consecutive beats of the participant’s heart. SD . absorption in emotion. Because the small number of shorter-term practitioners (n 5) enrolled in the study prohibited meaningful comparisons of both groups with our control participants. Meditators were recruited from local meditation centers. 1975). with conditions reversed in Session 2 and set order counterbalanced across participants. so that the mean luminance of pleasant. and unpleasant experimental stimuli was equated. comparisons of valence reports to masked pictures yielded a ns trend to a Group Valence interaction. 2040. ratings of pleasantness were found to increase as a function of picture luminance. (76.2 times per week (SD 4. they were brightened. Averill & ThomasKnowles. 1995).93. and 16 pleasant– high arousal color pictures selected from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS. Of those providing information on their weekly practice.16. 4653. M 21. CA. on the other half. In the masked to unpleasant (M 2. 1710. and Katkin (2000). 1220. Stimuli were presented on a 17-in. 1050. 2190. 2 One meditator (with 20 years of practice) reported no set schedule for formal practice. 5520. 1070). the Mood Awareness Scale (MAS. Short term meditators tended to experience unpleasant pictures as more unpleasant than did long term meditators (short term M 3. 2340. unpleasant: 1300. or “the ability to identify. Emotional pictures were selected from categories likely to elicit “biologically prepared” responses and included babies. long term M 2.AWARENESS OF SUBTLE EMOTIONAL FEELINGS matched to the meditators on age (meditators: M 55. 1994). participants judged synchrony between a series of tones and a graphically displayed beating heart (cf. and emotional expressiveness. two neutral. 2550. the Trait Metamood Scale (TMM.20 cm) from the participant. 2001). ns). In a practice session.3 Individual differences in visceral perception ability were assessed using a heartbeat detection task following the procedure outlined by Wiens. to create masks both complex and bright enough to interrupt visual processing of the targets. Salovey. spiders. Forster). which generated tones linked to the participant’s current R-wave and governed trial order using a randomization algorithm. controls: M 18. defined as “the extent to which individuals monitor their emotions. C. 4 The IAPS pictures used in this study were: Set I (pleasant: 2150. practicing an average of 8. 7550. 9210. All meditators had a regular practice sustained for over 10 years (range 12–29 years. for an average of 47 min per session (SD 23). Each stimulus valence was represented at least twice per block. Stimulus presentation and psychophysiological data acquisition were synchronized and controlled by a PC running DMDX software. 5510. 1991). the clarity and attention factors were considered most likely to index the ability to attend to and distinguish subtle emotional feeling states. distinguish. the Externally-Oriented Thinking subscale of the TAS (reverse scored). 2058. 2900. SD 2. 1811. The AcqKnowledge program triggered another PC running DMDX soft- Experimental Design In each of two testing sessions. On the basis of hierarchical cluster analyses of data collected from a sample of 151 college students. Ryan. 1985). Control participants were recruited from University of Arizona staff and the surrounding community. 2215. 2800. divided into two sets. In the actual task. Neutral stimuli were nonarousing.0) and years of education (meditators: M 18. Fenigstein. neutral. SD . SD .18-cm) computer monitor 30 in.. Gohm and Clore (2000) recommended the Labeling subscale of the MAS. In addition. two unpleasant). 1120. SD 4. nudes. & Palfai. animals. participants sat upright in a recliner and were instructed to attend to their heartbeats without feeling for their pulse and to verbally report whether tones on a given trial were “in synch” or delayed from actual heartbeats. and unpleasant stimuli were matched for luminance and mean red. 684). blue. while long term meditators did not differ (pleasant M 1. and describe specific emotions” (p. 686). while the ECS. the Clarity subscale of the TMM.05).37.23. I.. 1616. . neutralvalenced pictures with biological content (humans. 3 While other scales reviewed by Gohm and Clore (2000) measured factors like intensity of emotion.2).18. Mayer.97. see below for recording parameters). participants viewed one set of stimuli masked and the other nonmasked.08). value their emotions. p .95.73). happy and angry faces. & Buss. snakes.66). In the nonmasked condition. Six alternating blocks of masked and nonmasked trials were presented in each session. Set II (pleasant: 4670.43. the PSC.27 years. 5531.82) pictures ( p . 2495. 2516.34.173. but that she had integrated “mindfulness” into her daily life. and randomly placed white abstract shapes were inserted into each image. 1995). with output to a PC running AcqKnowledge software (Biopac Systems. Bradley & Lang.23. the Private Self-Consciousness Scale (PSC. 4660. Center for the Study of Emotion & Attention. SD 10. 1930. and clarity.13. 2000). (43. Taylor. Swinkels & Giuliano. one meditator (with 29 years of practice) was unable to say how long her sessions lasted on average. Masks were constructed with image-processing software by overlaying sections of six stimuli (two pleasant. Five independent judges rated the masks on a 5-point version of the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM. Santa Barbara. Scheier. neutral: 2840.933.99. 16 unpleasant– high arousal. neutral: 5534. unpleasant M 1. see Wiens & Palmer. matched for both content and normative ratings of valence and arousal. Only masks rated on average as neutral on valence and low on arousal were included in the study. Turvey. We collected heartbeat data using a Biopac Systems ECG amplifier. On half of the trials. 395 ware (developed at Monash University and at the University of Arizona by K. & Babgy.95) than to pleasant (M 1.

Then. and subscale z scores were summed to generate composite attention and clarity scores for each participant. Corrected degrees of freedom are reported where appropriate. Wiens. we hoped to minimize some of this variation. participants may be aware that something occurred. EMG signals were amplified 5000 times and notch filtered to remove 60 Hz noise. participants are surprised to learn that a target stimulus has been presented. Separate stimulus type repeated measures ANOVAs were con- Emotion Ratings Participants rated their experienced valence and arousal in response to all stimuli on 5-point versions of the SAM scales. “Ugh! That’s awful!”) and inappropriate (e. following the procedure of Katkin. and facial EMG were attached. and highlighted the researchers’ interest in whether emotion experiences might also be elicited under masked presentation conditions. Repeated measures ANOVAs (2 [group] 3 [stimulus type] 2 [session]) revealed no significant main or interaction effects or trends related to day of testing in either condition. on masked trials. Our purpose was to degrade perception to the extent that participants were unable or unwilling to report seeing a stimulus. using forward and backward masks. Change scores in microvolts from a 1-s prestimulus baseline were computed for all 100-ms epochs during the 3-s stimulus presentation period. Before scoring. self-reported feelings) may be possible. participants completed the second session of the picture-viewing task following the procedure outlined earlier and then completed all psychometric measures and the heartbeat detection task. We conducted separate 2 3 (Group Stimulus Type) repeated measures ANOVAs for each condition. noting subtle changes in feelings and allowing these to inform ratings on the valence and arousal scales. We subjected all measures to 2 3 2 (Group Stimulus Type Condition) repeated measures ANOVAs. Instructions for the picture-viewing task disclosed stimulus presentation parameters. participants responded either “yes” or “no” to a probe asking whether they thought they had seen some identifiable feature or figure in the briefly presented target stimulus. participants completed a structured interview about emotion experiences and provided measures of heart rate variability as part of a separate study. a 45-ms forward mask preceded a 45-ms presentation of the target stimulus. Mean valence rating. Examples of appropriate (e. and smoothed over a 20-ms moving window. In Session 2. 2004). For each stimulus. The electrodes for recording of skin conductance. Self-report and psychophysiological data.. arousal rating. unpleasant) in each condition (masked. the signal was smoothed offline over a 100-ms moving window and resampled at 20 Hz. length of meditation practice. Variations in stimulus features and individual differences in perceptual thresholds and response biases are among the factors that can influence perception of masked stimuli (Maxwell & Davidson. However. Participants were instructed to fully attend to each stimulus and then focus their attention on their own subsequent reaction. ECG. Signals were bandpass filtered offline over a range of 10 –500 Hz. clarity.g. Instructions for ratings emphasized the focus on participants’ experienced emotion. mentioned prior findings of physiological responses to masked stimuli. thus. but are unable to identify the stimulus (Forster.05. SCR magnitude.03 S and onset in the time window 1– 4 s poststimulus onset was recorded. Impedances at all sites were less than 10 k . 2003). and visceral perception ability (number of correct trials on the heartbeat detection task). Both measures were sampled at 1000 Hz for 4 s pre. so I’ll rate it negative”) criteria for making ratings were discussed during the practice session.396 NIELSEN AND KASZNIAK presentation and bioelectrical amplifiers for psychophysiological measurement. nonmasked). collapsed over the two viewing sessions. and participants entered their experience ratings on a keyboard. regardless of the objective content of the stimuli and regardless of how participants thought they “ought” to feel. The current study employed complex pictorial stimuli for which such systematic examinations of perception at varying exposure durations have not been explored.05 molar NaCl in Unibase). use of a forward and backward mask. while at durations from 60 – 67 ms. SCR variables were subjected to a square-root transformation to correct for skewed distributions. EMG signals were recorded from left and right corrugator and zygomatic facial muscle sites. Research from lexical masked priming studies has demonstrated that at durations shorter than 50 ms.05) were classified as good heartbeat detectors. effectively consuming visual processing capacity on both sides of the target. This ended the trial and triggered the onset of the next trial. comparing the responses of meditators and controls. self-reported emotion awareness. and EMG change were computed for each participant for each stimulus type (pleasant. rectified. a blank screen appeared for 4 s after stimulus presentation while participants attended to their feeling states.. Raw scores on each psychometric scale or subscale were standardized with reference to sample means and standard deviations. In Session 1. Arousal ratings were reverse coded to provide a more intuitive representation on a scale ranging from 1 (not aroused) to 5 (very aroused). Data Analysis Individual difference measures. participants merely indicated by yes/no response whether they had seen the picture. and yet discrimination on other measures (physiology. condition. Additionally. Mohan. Finally. & Hector. In a small testing room containing a computer for stimulus 5 It should be noted that the 45 ms target presentation is somewhat longer than the 30 –33 ms typical in studies with emotional pictorial stimuli in which only backward masks have been employed. Correlation analyses explored relationships between age. order effects were not explored further.5 V) amplifier and 8-mm Ag/AgCl electrodes filled with a pharmaceutically prepared electrolyte (0. using electrode placements recommended by Fridlund and Cacioppo (1986). blocks explicit perceptual awareness. . participants were seated in an upright recliner for all tasks. Separate analyses of variance (ANOVAs) assessed differences between meditators and controls in visceral perception ability. Electrodes were attached to the medial phalanges of the first and second fingers of the nondominant hand. Trials with no measurable SCR were assigned zero amplitude and included in all analyses. Each participant received a score for total number of correct trials on the heartbeat detection task (200-ms delay tones reported as “in synch” or 500-ms delay reported as delayed). Psychophysiological Measures: Recording and Data Reduction SCR and facial EMG data were recorded using Biopac MP100 Systems bio-amplifiers.5 In both conditions. using a Greenhouse–Geisser correction for violations of the sphericity assumption. Procedure Participants came to the laboratory on two separate occasions within a 2-week period. neutral. Participants then viewed and rated a sample set of stimuli before being left alone to complete the experiment. & ¨ Ohman (2001). with a ground placed in the center of the forehead. SCR was recorded using a constant voltage (0. attention. individuals with 30 correct trials (binomial probability of 30 out of 50 correct . 5-point SAM valence and arousal scales appeared consecutively on the screen. The skin conductance signal was low-pass filtered (10 Hz) and amplified 20 times. and associated subscales. at this slightly longer stimulus duration. followed by a reappearance of the mask for 2910 ms. “That person must be feeling bad. By equating stimuli for luminance and providing an explicit set of criteria for reporting awareness. Two 4-mm Ag/AgCl electrodes were placed over each muscle site. the amplitude of the first SCR with minimum amplitude of 0. as indicated by self-report. For the nonmasked trials. with alpha set at .and 11 s poststimulus onset.g.

26) . SD 1. critical F(1. ns).3) did not differ in performance on the heartbeat detection task.05.44 (2.40 (2. 16 of 28 participants reported seeing some of the masked items. SD 5. Heartbeat detection.09. p . with these participants reporting a mean of 1.13) or their subscales. recommended by Buchner. p .91 for large effects. Erdfelder.49.50. p .01) subscales. nondiscriminating: M 0. For meditators only.35 (.7). setting the / ratio at 1.78 to detect medium effects.06).87 to detect large effects: Critical F(1. the relation between Clarity and years of meditation practice was stronger (r . In all. 52) 3.74. TMM * Indicates reverse scoring.485. p . Erdfelder and Faul (1997) for dealing with limited samples. r .64. scoring significantly higher on the Labeling (MAS).22.65 (meditators: M 3.26. F(1. nor was the heartbeat detection score significantly corre- The Picture Viewing Task Perception of masked stimuli. and unpleasant pictures were performed using the Dunn–Sidak correction for multiple comparisons. but not with attention (r . indicated that our power was . Clarity and attention scores were entered as covariates in separate subsequent analyses.13 (1.31) 22.0 (1.5). Table 1 shows means and standard errors on these measures.9.88) 46.44) Trait Metamood Scale. Meditators (M 24. 2 . Less conservative compromise power analysis. neutral.76 (1.6 The absence of relationships among these different measures of internal state awareness suggests that they tap different abilities.05.2. ducted for controls and meditators in each condition to explore withingroup effects on all measures. all were female. and missing right corrugator data from 1 control and 2 meditators. 2 . ns).78.1 (.18. Meditators and controls did not differ in the average number of masked items reported seen. r . 1997). SD 3.18 (. with alpha set at .1) 97. p .82) 103. Younger age was associated with higher scores on the Attention scale (r .52 to detect medium effects and . SD 3. 52) 4.20) .01).72) 22.03. were conducted with GPower software (Buchner. Power was . 2 . SD 4.79). years of practice was not significantly associated with any of the outcome measures 6 When short-term meditators were included.64 pleasant (SD 2. Equipment failures or experimenter errors resulted in missing left corrugator data from 1 control participant.09. F(1. F(1. reverse scored.55.41) 54.38. SD 3. Meditators and controls did not differ on overall attention scores or attention subscales. SD 3. Among meditators.6. ns) or the heartbeat detection score (r . and for Their Respective Subscales for 17 Controls and 11 Long-Term Meditators Dimension Clarity Labeling (MAS) Clarity (TMM) Difficulty Identifying Feelings (TAS)* Attention Emotional Creativity Private Self Consciousness Externally-Oriented Thinking (TAS)* Monitoring (MAS) Note.36 unpleasant (SD 1. One-way ANOVAs comparing good (n 5) and nondiscriminating (n 21) heartbeat detectors revealed no significant differences in attention (good discrimination: M 0.35. Nonmasked items that participants reported not seeing were likewise excluded. Only masked items reported as unseen were included in calculation of individual participant means for all dependent variables. MAS Mood Awareness Scale. SD 3.8 correct. although not significantly so (r .05.49) .87) 19. Planned pairwise comparisons between pleasant.55) 25.0. critical F(1. t(27) .36.23) 46. controls: M 4.8) versus Day 2 (M 1. There was no difference in the number of items reported seen on Day 1 (M 2.5) of testing. Clarity (r .99) 26. & Faul.18 (1. Data for the heartbeat detection task was missing from 2 participants (1 meditator and 1 control) because of irregular R-wave amplitudes. we included years of meditation practice as a covariate to explore whether length of practice enhanced discrimination. In all.78 (. SD 8.71 (1. Individual differences. years of practice was positively correlated with clarity. p . 1.17.1. F(1.005.005) and its Externally Oriented Thinking (TAS. Subscale Controls . p . Power considerations. 52) 1. Attention and Clarity subscale scores were not significantly correlated (r .58.82 (.71 (.81) 21.AWARENESS OF SUBTLE EMOTIONAL FEELINGS 397 Table 1 Means and Standard Errors for Scores on the Clarity and Attention Dimensions of Self-Reported Emotional Awareness.85) 40. Additional analyses compared good and nondiscriminating heartbeat detectors on all measures.65. with no differences in the Difficulty in Identifying Feelings subscale (TAS).4) or clarity (good discrimination: M 0. age was unrelated to other measures. and 1. and . Among meditators. Relations among individual difference measures.17) 25.36) items seen. We explored significant main effects or interactions with these variables using correlation analyses. 5 participants—1 meditator and 4 controls—were classified as good heartbeat detectors. 26) 5.32.05).65 (2. p .21.76. nondiscriminating: M 0.33) 20.93) Meditators 2. 26) 5.14 neutral (SD 2.4) and controls (M 26.05) and Monitoring (MAS.31). Results Individual Differences in Emotional and Visceral Awareness Self-reported emotional awareness.13. p . Meditators reported greater emotional clarity than controls. .24 (. p . and Clarity (TMM) subscales.93.45 (2. TAS Toronto Alexithymia Scale.40. SD 2. 26) 12.11 (. lated with composite scores of Attention (r .11.73 (4. Post hoc power analyses based on the present sample size for within-participants repeated measures ANOVA.

clarity score was This was also the case when these analyses included the 5 short-term meditators. SD 1.88.06) and unpleasant pictures (controls: M 3.94) were rated as more arousing than neutral pictures (controls: M 1. Self-reports of experienced arousal and valence. masked condition) and arousal (C. meditators: M 3. 2 . SD 0. Age was not associated with valence discrimination on any measure.14.73. meditators: M 4. Pairwise comparisons (all ps .26. Error bars represent standard errors.58). SD 0. Significant findings are reported below.421. nonmasked condition. D. meditators: M 1.52. Among meditators. F(1. F(2.50) than neutral pictures (controls: M 2.71. and valence ratings. B.42.36. SD 0.82. SD 0. Including clarity as a covariate in analyses of arousal ratings revealed an ns trend to a Group Clarity interaction. On the valence dimension. p . Responses to Nonmasked Pictures The nonmasked condition served as a manipulation check on the ability of the stimuli to evoke emotional responses and to illuminate any baseline group differences. in either task condition. Correlation analyses revealed that among meditators (n 16) years of meditation practice was negatively correlated with arousal ratings to masked neutral (r . pleasant pictures were rated as more pleasant (controls: M 1. F(2. masked condition) ratings of meditators and controls.20.30.94. SD 0. 24) 3.47) and unpleasant pictures as more unpleasant (controls: M 4. SD 0.71. meditators: M 2. The anticipated significant effects of condition were found on all measures. 2 .83. F(2.34. SD 0. 2 .7 Attention to emotion and heartbeat detection ability failed to account for substantial performance differences.90.44. 52) 191. Figure 1 (A and C) shows valence and arousal ratings of meditators and controls in the nonmasked condition.04.05. p .21. 2 .68. SD 0.24.001) revealed that pleasant pictures (controls: M 2. p . meditators: M 1. SD 0. p . 52) 54. 7 .80.001. but not pleasant pictures (r . meditators: M 2. with one exception: Years of meditation interacted with Stimulus Type on Arousal ratings in the masked condition. 28) 3. whereas clarity scores related to several outcomes in the task. A 2 3 (Group Stimulus Type) ANOVA yielded the predicted significant main effect of stimulus type on arousal ratings.001. SD 0.68. SD 0.398 NIELSEN AND KASZNIAK Figure 1. particularly among meditators. nonmasked condition.22.90.76. Mean valence (A. with no significant differences between meditators and controls in either selfreported emotion or psychophysiological responses to the nonmasked pictures. ns).28. with single exceptions in each case.40). but no difference between groups.07). by stimulus type. ns) and unpleasant (r .06.

Error bars represent standard errors. F(1. 2 . Skin conductance.298.75.25.93. neutral: r .15.1).08.99. p .85. 2 .01. while their responses to pleasant pictures (good discriminators: M 0.17.01) and unpleasant pictures (left: p . p .05. ns) did not differ.06. . p .30. p . 10) 3.57. a 2 3 (Group Stimulus Type) ANOVA comparing good and nondiscriminating heartbeat detectors on SCR in the nonmasked condition revealed a main effect of Stimulus Type.07) than nondiscriminating heartbeat detectors. Skin conductance and individual differences. ns.03. There were no differences between controls and meditators on any of these measures. F(1. Pairwise comparisons revealed that pleasant pictures elicited less corrugator activation than unpleasant pictures (left: p . 24) 8. SD 0. 2 . compared with neutral pictures. p . right: p . A 2 3 (Group Stimulus Type) ANOVA comparing meditators and controls on arousal ratings to masked pictures yielded a significant quadratic effect of stimulus type. 16) 9. p . 48) 5. neutral: r . qualified by a Group Clarity interaction.15.22. but there was a significant main effect of clarity.01. Corrugator responses to neutral and unpleasant pictures did not significantly differ. and a significant Group Stimulus Type interaction.10. 26) 6. 35.005.005. p . SD 0. SD 0. F(1.25.1) and neutral pictures (left: p .18. 2 . Facial EMG.15. F(1. unpleasant: M 1. 2 . unpleasant: r .25.23. nondiscriminating: M 0. the significant quadratic effect of stimulus type remained.20.17. Responses to Masked Pictures Self-reports of experienced arousal and valence. 2 .09. p .11. F(1. nondiscriminating: M 0. F(1.05.05. all correlations between Clarity subscale scores and SCRs were nonsignificant.01. unpleasant: r .84. p . F(1. p . and right.77. F(1.27.05).15. SD 0.16. 26.32.005.62. 2 .24. ps .86.01. SD 0.005. 28.61.13. these correlations were all positive. but no group main effect or Group Stimulus Type interaction. p .26.01. indicating a reduction in physiological arousal as clarity increases. nondiscriminating: M 0.92.68. A 2 3 (Group Stimulus Type) ANOVA on SCRs yielded a significant quadratic effect of stimulus type. F(2.05.10. 2 .44. There was no main effect of group or Group Stimulus Type interaction on arousal ratings in the masked condition (see Figure 1D). although nonsignificant (pleasant: r . Stimulus type also influenced zygomatic activation on both the left. 29.74.005. SD 0. separate ANOVAs on the two groups revealed a stronger quadratic effect of stimulus type in the SCRs of controls. p .05. 26) 11. than meditators.05) and neutral pictures (good discriminators: M 0. neutral: M 1. 48) 5.17. p . F(1.30. Among meditators only.05.02) 4. 2 . F(2. with larger responses for both pleasant and unpleasant pictures. 24) 7.1. Square-root transformed SCRs of meditators and controls to pleasant.29. 2 . Pairwise comparisons revealed that pleasant pictures elicited significantly greater zygomatic activation than neutral pictures (left: p .14. right: p . right: ns trend p . In the only case in which visceral perception ability influenced performance on the task.01).13.19. rs .47) 10. p .01.30. unpleasant: r .AWARENESS OF SUBTLE EMOTIONAL FEELINGS 399 negatively correlated with arousal ratings to nonmasked pictures (pleasant: r . and unpleasant stimuli presented A) nonmasked and B) masked. 2 .16. p . 2 .01. Pairwise comparisons revealed that controls rated masked unpleasant pic- Figure 2. When Clarity scale scores were included as a covariate in the analysis of SCRs.58. neutral.13. 2 . Figure 2A shows square-root transformed SCRs of meditators and controls in the nonmasked condition. SD 0. and right. Figure 3 (Panels A and C) illustrate left corrugator and zygomatic responses of meditators and controls in the nonmasked condition.21.93) 9. clarity was significantly negatively correlated with SCRs for all stimulus types (pleasant: r . ns.14. p . F(1. For controls.005. Among controls.28) 11.12. 52) 4. p . SD 0. A 2 3 (Group Stimulus Type) ANOVA on valence ratings in the masked condition yielded a significant Group Stimulus Type interaction. ns). F(1. 24) 4.64.91. p . Good heartbeat detectors had larger SCRs to unpleasant (good discriminators: M 0.005. neutral: r .46. Pairwise comparisons revealed nonsignificant trends for neutral pictures to be rated as less arousing than both pleasant and unpleasant pictures (pleasant: M 1. Separate 2 3 (Group Stimulus Type) repeated measures ANOVAs on mean EMG change during the 3 s of picture viewing revealed significant main effects of stimulus type at corrugator sites on both the left. ns.21. 2 . F(2.05). p . right: p . consistent with predictions. SD 0. ns).35. p . However.

F(2. were sensitive to valence information contained in the masked pictures. Facial EMG activation change (in microvolts) in both meditators and controls in response to pleasant. 2 . When clarity was included as a covariate in the analysis of valence ratings. 2 .17. but a main effect of group also emerged. 2 . although ratings for neutral and pleasant pictures did not differ (pleasant: M 2. C) left zygomatic EMG change to nonmasked pictures.05) with a tendency to rate them as more unpleasant than neutral masked pictures ( p . meditators did not discriminate among masked pictures on the valence dimension (pleasant: M 3. Error bars represent standard errors. neutral. F(1.01.15.04. but meditators were not. Clarity scale scores were significantly positively correlated with valence ratings to unpleasant pictures in the masked condition (r . p .05. Individual differences.18. and unpleasant pictures.01). SD 0. This pattern in controls is consistent with accurate valence discrimination (see Figure 1B).01.18 r . p . 13 on Day . 17 on Day 1. 32) 4. F(2.11).76.005).12.76. p .81.35. SD 0.22.23. B) left corrugator EMG change to masked pictures. and counter to hypotheses. p . F(1. 20) 0.005. D) left zygomatic EMG change to masked pictures. but a Stimulus Type Clarity interaction emerged.20. measured as the difference between mean activation during the 3 seconds poststimulus onset and mean activation during the 1 second prestimulus period: A) left corrugator EMG change to nonmasked pictures.23. Among meditators only. 2 .05. which may be interpreted as a tendency to rate these stimuli as more unpleasant as clarity increases. 24) 4.09. 48) 3.93. neutral: r .20. p . qualified by an interaction of Group Clarity. When including clarity as a covariate in the analysis of arousal ratings.05. the Group Stimulus Type interaction remained. Influences of masked stimulus awareness on ratings. Higher clarity scores were associated with lower arousal ratings to all stimulus types in meditators (pleasant: r . the main effect of stimulus type remained. F(2. In contrast with controls.74.2.97. p . but not controls (all rs . F(2. 24) 5. SD 0. 2 .11. 48) 6. tures as significantly more unpleasant than meditators ( p .41. SD 0. F(2.05). p .05. SD 0. p .65.05.04.24.09.18. neutral: M 3.19.17).99. Planned pairwise comparisons indicated that controls rated unpleasant masked pictures as significantly more unpleasant than pleasant masked pictures ( p . . p . 48) 7.400 NIELSEN AND KASZNIAK Figure 3. ns).13.94. Separate three stimulus type ANOVAs on valence ratings in controls and meditators indicated that controls. unpleasant: M 2. unpleasant: M 3. All other correlations between clarity scale scores and valence ratings of masked items by either controls or meditators were low. 2 . neutral: M 2. p . unpleasant: r .23). p . One control participant reported seeing many more masked items than other participants (30 of 48 masked items. SD 0.93. 2 . ns.

77. Unpleasantness discrimination. p . that is.31.8 Pleasantness discrimination. SD 1.58. right: r . In addition. actual numbers of pleasant hits ranged from 0 to 10 (M 2. unpleasant items rated as 4 or 5 were classified as unpleasant hits.28. F(2.5. Rather than strengthening the affective signal. The only influence of Attention scale scores was on SCRs to masked pictures. .31. Good discriminators had more pleasantness hits (M 5.8. right: r . Good unpleasantness discriminators had. meditators with higher clarity had less physiological arousal to all stimuli and more zygomatic activity in the masked condition. r .06).15. This pattern could obtain without any pleasant items actually being rated as pleasant. 24) 5. p . SD 2. p .05) but only on the right for unpleasant pictures (left: r . there was a significant Group Clarity interaction.14.36.41.58. and ratings of pleasant (n 47).3) than nondiscriminators (hits: M 2. p .6) and fewer false alarms (M 1. Exploratory Analyses of Valence Discrimination: A Signal Detection Approach Although the controls’ pattern of valence ratings in the masked condition was in the predicted direction. Among the remaining 27 participants.19.5 or greater.05. 30) 3. suggesting that awareness of seen items was limited and possibly inaccurate.005.18. p . ns).05) and neutral pictures (left: r . p .17. p .9). or the significant Group Stimulus Type interaction on valence ratings.7) and fewer false alarms (M 1.37. 2 . right: r .g. neutral (n 32).51. and unpleasant (n 38) seen items were compared. we sought to identify individual good valence discriminators to determine whether. Of these only 4 (all controls) had d values of 0. yielding separate measures of sensitivity (d ) and willingness to endorse the presence of an emotional state (criterion) of pleasantness or unpleasantness. Of these. p .9. Of these. no significant correlations emerged (all rs . 48) 5. unpleasant. SCR magnitude in the masked condition was unaffected by stimulus type in either meditators or controls. When Clarity was included as a covariate in the analysis of SCRs.. suggesting hypotheses for future study. SD 1. neutral: r . (pleasant: r . 2000) also failed to reveal significant activation differences as a function of stimulus type.97) out of a maximum possible 16 items in each case.01.60. clarity scores were negatively correlated with SCRs to masked items (pleasant.03. In contrast to our findings for unseen masked items. as the average number of seen items was so small.4. on average.37.16.17 to 1. Two separate signal detection analyses were conducted for pleasantness discrimination and unpleasantness discrimination. As illustrated in Figure 2. Attention score was positively correlated with SCRs to all stimulus types. and catch items rated as 4 or 5 were classified as false alarms for the analysis of unpleasantness discrimination.47.22. However. only 1 control participant was classified as good at both pleasantness and unpleasantness discrimination.05. F(1. false alarms: M 2. Skin conductance and facial EMG.23. Pleasantness and unpleasantness d values were not significantly correlated with heartbeat detection scores or self-reported attention or clarity. among meditators.77. when all seen masked items were pooled across participants. SD 1. SD 3. including seen items in analyses eliminated effects of stimulus type on valence ratings. Among controls.9. p . ns. F(2. 2 . F(2. actually rating pleasant stimuli as pleasant) could not be assessed in the above analyses of mean differences. It was not possible to directly compare ratings of seen and unseen items. p . SD 2. Some evidence that the experiences of seen and not. an arbitrarily chosen demarcation value for distinguishing good discriminators from nondiscriminators. SD 2.12. Catch items rated as 1 or 2 were classified as false alarms for the pleasantness discrimination analysis.05. F(2.72. SD 2. p . beliefs or experiences of having seen an item may merely have added perceptual and/or affective noise. Likewise.05. 1 meditator) had d values 0. unpleasant: r . good and nondiscrimi8 While the number of actual hits is small. as a group. p . ns. There were likewise no significant differences in facial muscle activation change from baseline in either corrugator or zygomatic muscle groups as a function of stimulus type during the 3 s of stimulus presentation (see Figure 3). p . The same 16 catch items were included in assessments of both pleasantness and unpleasantness discrimination. there was a significant Group Stimulus Type Clarity interaction on left zygomatic responses. By these criteria.05. 2 . F(1. all pleasant or unpleasant masked items that participants reported not seeing were modeled as signals. F(1.61. with controls still showing a significant main effect of stimulus type. Seven participants had positive pleasantness d values.AWARENESS OF SUBTLE EMOTIONAL FEELINGS 401 2). ranging from 0. false alarms: M 2.6. Data from the one control participant reporting a high number of seen masked items were excluded from these analyses. p . because of the unusually low number of items classified as signals in that particular case. ns). we were nonetheless interested in exploring whether unique individual differences were associated with accuracy in valence discrimination. they shared any common features.83. Separate analyses of EMG change in 500-ms epochs (cf.8.6. 24) 5.18. 50) 4. r . 2 . F(2. Therefore.2). 2 .8.3. Among meditators. and a Group Clarity interaction on right zygomatic responses.94. p . whereas among controls.54. using a signal detection approach. specific accuracy (e. that individuals inclined to attend to emotion were more physiologically aroused when asked to attend to difficult-to-discern emotional states. F(2. 2 . SD 2.05.5. pleasant neutral unpleasant on the valence dimension. p . p .2) than nondiscriminators (hits: M 2. it may underestimate the number of items that support a discriminatory pattern. these relations were not obtained (all rs . pleasant items rated as 1 or 2 on the 5-point valence scale were classified as pleasant hits.05. p . perhaps not surprisingly.3. Covariance analysis yielded a significant main effect of attention. or arousal ratings. Recognizing the potential for the following analyses to capitalize on chance. nominally more unpleasantness hits (M 3. suggesting.seen trials were qualitatively different comes from the following finding. Dimberg et al.06). 2 . neutral: r .03 to 1. 24) 4. 50) 3.05.78. Correlational analyses revealed that. Fifteen participants had positive unpleasantness d values.73. SD 2. To assess valence discrimination. there was no significant influence of stimulus type on either valence. ranging from 0.09.01). Excluding data from this participant did not alter the findings of a significant main effect of stimulus type on arousal ratings..58) and unpleasant hits ranged from 0 to 7 (M 2. 5 (4 controls. Thus.77.2. clarity scores were positively correlated with left and right zygomatic responses to masked pleasant pictures (left: r .54. Catch items (masked masks) were modeled as noise.19. 111) 0. 111) 0. p .

23.1) pleasantness false alarms. p . Group differences in valence discrimination.1. the former perhaps a more visceral and the latter a more reflective form of awareness. p . and self-assessed emotional attention and clarity (on standardized questionnaires). F(1. Contrary to hypotheses.05. which further suggests that reporting seeing a masked item did not translate into accurately assessing its valence. controls’ criterion for endorsing pleasantness was higher. However. Lang. Moreover. Meditators with higher pleasantness false alarms had higher arousal ratings to masked items of all types (rs . SD 0. compared with an average of 1. which suggests that participants with good valence discrimination were not simply more perceptually accurate. 25) 10. 2 . For each stimulus type. p . Lack of Physiological Discrimination Among Masked Stimuli There was no discrimination among masked pictures on either of the physiological measures used in this study.54.07. F(1. 2004).07. 1993. there were no differences between good and nondiscriminators (pleasantness or unpleasantness) in hit rates for seen items.75. 25) 8. under masked conditions than the unconditioned biological stimuli selected for this study. pleasant masked stimuli elicited experiences that were rated as arousing and neutral. Long-term meditators and controls did not differ in heartbeat detection ability. there was a unique pattern of self-reported experience: Unpleasant masked stimuli elicited experiences that were rated as arousing and un- Individual Differences Heartbeat detection. Individual differences associated with visceral perception ability (as assessed by a heartbeat detection task). meditators were willing to endorse valenced experiences in the masked condition. F(1. Ohman & Soares. 2 . F(1. in the present study. meditators with higher clarity scores had fewer pleasantness false alarms in the masking task (r . 1994.005 (controls: M 1.5. emotional clarity was associated with more unpleasant ratings of unpleasant masked pictures. There was no evidence of physiological discrimination in the masked condition. although more controls than meditators were classified as good heartbeat detectors in this study.402 NIELSEN AND KASZNIAK nators (pleasantness or unpleasantness) did not differ on these measures.63).01.09).64. with individual differences revealed on one. Heartbeat detection ability has been linked with more pronounced facial expression of emotion (Ferguson & Katkin. ps . It should be noted that these analyses are compromised by the small number (n 5) of good heartbeat detectors in this study. Design features may account largely for these differences. were also explored. the present findings stand in contrast to prior studies using masked aversively conditioned ¨ stimuli (Katkin et al. Heartbeat detection was unrelated to selfassessments of emotional awareness. with an average of 4. In addition. although not better discrimination. 1996. and enhanced visceral perception ability were not specifically associated with improved discrimination on the valence dimension. SD 1. 1998). in meditators only. pleasant. p . Exploratory signal detection analyses of participants’ ability to extract specific pleasantness or unpleasantness information from their reactions to masked stimuli revealed that controls had a greater sensitivity to pleasantness information than meditators did..6 for controls (SD 2. There were also no significant differences between participants high and low in pleasantness or unpleasantness discrimination on SCR or EMG in the masked condition. In the nonmasked condition of the picture-viewing task. whereas meditators were more likely to make pleasantness false alarms. but not unpleasantness.17. 1994.. heightened emotional attention.44. respectively. Long-term meditation practice. ps . of the measures of the emotional response (Ferguson & Katkin. Meditators rated themselves higher than controls in emotional clarity—the ability to accurately . 1996). However. and neutral masked stimuli elicited experiences that were rated as unarousing and neutral. differences between longterm meditators and control participants were assessed on measures of self-reported emotion experience (valence and arousal) and emotional physiology (skin conductance and facial EMG). there were no differences in physiological responses or in self-reported emotion experiences of valence or arousal as a function of long-term meditation practice.0. making significantly more pleasantness false alarms than controls. Aversive conditioning and pictures of facial affect may be more effective at eliciting autonomic and somatic responses. only control participants were sensitive to valence information available in the masked stimuli. Of note.66. Comparisons of EMG activations of good and nondiscriminating heartbeat detectors in the present study did not corroborate this finding. meditators: M 0. ¨ Ohman & Soares. 1998) or masked pictures of facial affect (Dimberg et al. Meditation and emotional clarity. despite discrimination in emotional self-report. 2 . suggesting that these measures tap different abilities or constructs. More sensitive physiological measures may yield different findings. which was consistent with previously reported positive correlations between heartbeat detection scores and several self-report measures of negative emotionality (Critchley et al. The combined pattern of valence and arousal discrimination among masked stimuli observed in controls supports the assertion that subtle emotional feelings possess the qualities necessary to guide behavior.6 (SD 3.05). Good heartbeat detectors had larger SCRs to nonmasked unpleasant and neutral pictures than nondiscriminators.25. Pleasantness and unpleasantness discrimination were uncorrelated with the number of items of either valence reported as seen. Still. both groups showed the expected pattern of arousal ratings.93. 2000) in which physiological discrimination was observed. suggesting a lack of differences in emotional responses between the two groups under standard visual stimulus emotion-elicitation conditions. 25) 5.05). but not all. p . 25) 1. Discussion Summary of Findings In an emotion picture-viewing paradigm. However. Controls were better discriminators of pleasantness than meditators. Relating awareness to valence discrimination.. It is not uncommon for the different components of emotion to dissociate. 2001. However. whereas controls with higher false alarms (pleasant or unpleasant) reported higher arousal to masked unpleasant items only (rs .2). in which stimuli were presented both masked and nonmasked. this negativity bias was not reflected in self-reported affect to the same stimuli.

2000). such as feelings evoked by masked stimuli—from being elaborated by cognitive appraisals of valence. Future studies using concurrent measures of physiology. a failure to rate ambiguous stimuli as negative. (e) lower SCRs in both the masked and nonmasked conditions. . The positivity effect—a tendency to focus on positive information in attention and mem- ory— has been found in older adults in numerous studies (see Mather & Carstensen.” In contrast. and a higher number of positive false alarms in the masked condition (except among meditators with very high clarity scores). When combined with heightened clarity. hypotheses. whereas greater zygomatic activity and improved valence detection were apparent only in the masked condition. & Lundqvist. such emotion regulation may permit accurate valence discrimination against a background of equanimity. In natural environments. One possible interpretation of these findings is that the higher levels of clarity achieved by some meditators are accompanied by emotional regulatory skills honed through meditation practice that serve to dampen physiological and experienced arousal and enhance positive facial expressions while simultaneously permitting increased accuracy in valence discrimination. controls’ less actively regulated emotional responsivity may permit the elaboration of emotional states in response to masked stimuli. However. meditators strive to adopt an equanimous attitude of observing and letting go of their emotions in an effort to avoid destructive desires and states of consciousness that arise from holding on to negative feelings and thoughts (Goleman. controls were more sensitive to unpleasant than pleasant information in the masked stimuli. including the importance of emotion contagion for social interaction (Lundqvist & Dimberg. a disposition toward equanimity and positivity when stimuli are ambiguous. In summary. Flykt. both skills may be more finely honed. Can Feelings Inform Choice? Our initial premise was that affective discrimination between pleasant and unpleasant pictures in the masked condition would provide evidence of a basis for subtle conscious emotional feelings that could serve as behavioral guides. gave rise to an apparent positivity effect reflected in more positive facial affect. ¨ 1996. behavior. in tandem with efforts to cultivate emotional awareness. Long-term meditation practice. the various channels that carry emotional information. preattentive responses to negative emotional events may support species survival (LeDoux. 1998). According to Young (2003). of whom only 3 had clarity scores exceeding the mean score of meditators. In controls. Although prior research has demonstrated that negative affect can be elicited preattentively. Meditation practice. 2003. long-term meditation practice may entrain automatic emotional regulatory mechanisms. Nyanaponika. every conscious state has a feeling tone—a quality of pleasantness. Only longterm meditators with very high levels of emotional clarity were sensitive to subtle negative feelings. unpleasantness. on the other hand. according to Buddhist psychology. The result of these efforts may be the development of emotion regulation strategies that reduce arousal. & Charles. lower physiological and experienced arousals were associated with higher clarity in meditators in both the masked and nonmasked conditions. A better understanding of the role of emotions in guiding behavior will arise only from studies capable of exploring.AWARENESS OF SUBTLE EMOTIONAL FEELINGS 403 discriminate among and label one’s feeling states—and length of meditation practice was positively correlated with clarity score. and emotion experience in a variety of 9 The authors thank Laura Carstensen for discussions suggesting this interpretation of the emotional changes associated with meditation. may develop similar regulatory skills. and role of positive emotional states in fostering seeking behavior and cognitive elaboration (Fredrickson. 1998. raising questions about why long-term meditation practice did not more readily facilitate access to such potentially behaviorally useful information. or neutrality—that the experienced meditator is trained to discriminate (Goleman. First. Clarity was positively correlated with years of meditation practice and with patterns of emotional responding consistent with an emotional regulatory skill. As predicted. (c) more unpleasant ratings of valence experience after exposure to the masked unpleasant stimuli. 1999. In summary. and prohibit feeling states— especially those of uncertain origin. through practice. Although scales representing valence and arousal provide a useful starting point. 2001). the present study offers evidence that visually masked “biologically relevant” stimuli of different valences can give rise to feeling states that differ on arousal and valence dimensions. “When feelings are experienced with equanimity they assure their proper function as motivators and directors of behavior as opposed to driving and distorting behavior. Fung. Rozin & Royzman. 2003).9 Although meditators seem to retain the ability to allow feelings to evolve under some circumstances—as in the nonmasked condition when asked to explore and report on the nature of their feeling states—perhaps they develop. There are also plausible evolutionary reasons why preattentively elicited positive feelings might be adaptive. Ohman. Perhaps these two skills— discrimination and regulation— develop separately in meditators and vie for priority. Panksepp. enhance positive affect. and that there are individual differences in the ability to discriminate among those feelings. Higher clarity scores in meditators were associated with the following: (a) a tendency to report lower arousal to all types of nonmasked stimuli. 2003). none of these relations were obtained. in parallel. supporting the notion of a negativity bias (Cacioppo & Gardner. they do not capture many of the qualities of emotional feeling states that may nonetheless play an important role in decision making. Our findings suggest that nonmeditators are more sensitive to affective pleasant (approach it) and unpleasant (avoid it) feelings. resulting in the better valence discrimination observed in our sample. disconfirmed. Meditators. such as Buddhist monks. This initially seemed puzzling because. fundamentally changing the way in which practitioners respond to ambiguous emotional events and altering the quality of experiences through changes in motivation and attention. 2000). resulting in the observed differences between meditators and controls in this study. 2005. and (f) increased zygomatic activity to masked pictures. Buddhist psychology itself may also help to explain our seemingly counterintuitive findings. although at an earlier age. One may speculate that in exceptionally highly trained meditators. for a review) and has been proposed to arise from a motivation to maintain well-being through emotional regulation (Carstensen. (b) lower arousal ratings to all masked stimuli. so that we can better assess which of the many components of emotion is doing the functional work in any given decision context. (d) fewer pleasantness false alarms in the masked condition. 1995). through practice. These considerations were the motivation for our original.

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