Mindfulness @ Middlebury

Lectures by Catherine Kerr, Ph.D. @ Middlebury College

Department of Psychology, Program in Neuroscience, and the Mindfulness at Middlebury Initiative Guest Lecture

KerrCatherine Kerr, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine
Director of Translational Neuroscience
Contemplative Studies Initiative
Brown University

March 10-11, 2016

GENERAL AUDIENCE LECTURE Thursday March 10 • 4:30 pm • Dana Auditorium

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Brain, body, and mindfulness: New understandings of the “self”

This talk will describe recent studies drawn from the neuroscience of embodiment in order to lay out a novel understanding of the “self”. In particular, the presentation will describe recent studies of the “bodily self”–including studies using the “rubber hand illusion”–in order to argue for a view of the self that is rooted in multi-sensory integration and embodied feelings. This novel understanding of the self has important implications for humanistic scholarship, interdisciplinary inquiry and understandings of the sense of well-being. The talk will also describe efforts to experimentally investigate the experience of “presence,” which is the qualitative experience of being present to another person, and will also describe efforts by our team to develop brief mindfulness practices for medical settings that are designed to help healthcare practitioners be “present” in their encounters with patients.

SCIENCE LECTURE Friday March 11 • 12:30 pm • MBH 216

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Body feelings: Investigating neural mechanisms underlying embodiment and contemplative practice

This presentation describes recent investigations into two body perception networks in the brain. First, work by our lab and others shows how the mind rapidly shapes perception of body sensations by influencing oscillatory mechanisms (e.g., thalamocortical alpha) that modulate neurons responsible for perceiving simple touch and body feelings. In parallel with these basic science discoveries, our work also suggests mindfulness practice enhances the mind’s ability to modulate oscillatory mechanisms that control the “volume” of neuronal signals that encode touch and body sensation. The second half of the lecture describes a higher-order body perception network in the brain that integrates touch, sensations from joints and muscles, as well as visual inputs from looking at the body, resulting in a 3-dimensional spatial body representation. To examine this phenomenon, scientists have created bodily illusions such as the rubber hand illusion that probe body perception mechanisms. Dr. Kerr will discuss research using the rubber hand illusion suggesting that the perception of body sensations, and the experience of body ownership, are related to higher-order self-processing as well as basic physiological mechanisms related to temperature regulation. The talk concludes by considering a contemplative hypothesis related to somatic contemplative practices (such as Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga and Tantric Tibetan practice) as engaging higher-order body perception networks and exerting possible effects on temperature regulation.

Sponsored by the Department of Psychology, the Program in Neuroscience, the Department of Religion, Academic Affairs, and the Mindfulness at Middlebury initiative.

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