My research focuses on the relationship between present-moment awareness and well-being. Attending to one’s immediate environment is critical for adaptive behavior, yet modern life is increasingly filled with distraction. While it’s important to think beyond one’s immediate situation to plan for future events, what happens when such cognitive habits come at the expense of responding adaptively to challenges in the present? How can attention be retrained to help people to better care for themselves?
A major theme of my research has been to look at attention training in present moment awareness. In much of this work, I have used mindfulness meditation training interventions to look at how intensive practice in attending to momentary sensations alters one's sense of self and well-being.
A central mechanism of mindfulness training appears to be the use of momentary bodily sensation as an anchor to focus attention on the present. Through the investigation of the neural and behavioral correlates of this training, I have begun to develop a neuroscientific model of embodiment: how we come to know ourselves and the world through our physical bodies.
Developing interoceptive attention, an awareness of changing body sensation, may be especially important when responding to problems that are created or perpetuated through negative thinking. In depression, rumination over one's situation can serve to reinforce depressed mood; turning to the present moment through an anchor such as the body can be a powerful technique for disengaging from rumination and disrupting the cycle of self-criticism.