A number of junior participants received competitive awards to reimburse their expenses for attending M4 in St. Louis. All travel awardees will be presenting their research during the Poster Session on Thursday evening. Please see below to learn about our awardees, their research interests, and the poster they will present at M4.
University of Haifa
"Meditation and complexity – A review and empirical study"
I am a neuroscience PhD student focused on exploring advanced metrics and methods for the analysis of neural data for the prediction of psychological outcomes, specifically using deep learning and measures inspired by complexity science. My interest lies in bridging scientific and spiritual enquiry, aspiring to devise science-based tools for enhancing contemplative practices and exploring various altered states of consciousness. My research explores the neural correlates of states of self-dissolution in psychedelics and meditation. I combine neurofeedback, computational neuroscience and neurophenomenology to facilitate a deeper basic-science understanding of the mental construct of the self and it’s malleability and developing practical tools for meditation practice that build upon this knowledge.
University of Haifa
"Mindfulness as a dynamical system: Theory and study"
Noga Aviad holds a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and Computer Science, and has six years of experience in the hi-tech industry. Her return to academia was motivated by a personal interest in understanding mindfulness. She completed her master's degree in psychology, where her thesis used machine learning to characterize systems-level electrophysiological activity during mindfulness meditation. In her current research as a Ph.D. student, Noga applies dynamical systems framework to theoretical and empirical study of mindfulness. She is particularly interested in how altered traits (e.g., lasting changes in affect, behavior, cognition, neural functioning and subjective experience) emerge from repeated practice of mindfulness states during meditation. She seeks to understand the underlying processes that shape the trajectories of these changes over time.
Virginia Commonwealth University
"The mismeasurement of mindfulness: Evidence of a jangle fallacy in popular mindfulness scales"
After obtaining both a BS and an MS in Management, Polina Beloborodova embarked on a successful business career. However, she eventually discovered her calling in psychology research and completed her PhD in Psychology from HSE University (Moscow, Russia). Currently, she is working on her second doctoral degree in Social Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, focusing on quantitative research methods. Polina studies how contemplative practices such as mindfulness meditation contribute to people's social and emotional well-being, with a particular focus on mindfulness measurement. In her free time, Polina enjoys reading and spending time in nature.
"Do contemplative practices make us moral?"
Kevin Berryman is a PhD student from Monash University, Australia who looks into the moral influences of contemplative practices from an empirical and philosophical perspective. In the empirical realm, he investigates how various styles of meditation differentially influence our processing of moral information. From a philosophical perspective, he asks how we should think about the ramifications of contemplative practices on our morality, and how responsibility and selfless experiences might coexist. He has also been a Buddhist monk for more than two decades.
University of California, San Francisco
"Childhood trauma predicts greater meditation practice, but neither childhood trauma nor meditation experience predict telomere length"
Quinn Conklin is the Executive Director of the Stress Measurement Network and a postdoctoral scholar working with Elissa Epel at University of California, San Francisco. She completed her PhD in psychology and worked as a postdoctoral scholar in Clifford Saron’s lab at the University of California, Davis Center for Mind and Brain. Quinn’s dissertation research investigated the effects of intensive meditation retreats on biomarkers of stress, inflammation, cellular aging, and social affiliation. She now leads the Contemplative Coping during COVID-19 (CCC) project—a multidisciplinary longitudinal study that aims to understand if and how people used meditation and other contemplative practices to navigate stressors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether this practice was related to better mental and physical health outcomes. Outside of the lab, Quinn is an avid gardener and enjoys being a loving partner, sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, and friend.
Geissy De Araújo
Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte
"The impact of a brief mindfulness training on interoception"
Geissy is a neuroscientist interested in understanding the therapeutic effects of mindfulness meditation and compassion practices on well-being, and human flourishing. Her Ph.D. research focused on interoception, emotions, and stress response after a brief mindfulness-based intervention. Geissy is also a pioneer mindfulness teacher in northeast of Brazil, and facilitates workshops and mindfulness-based training in different contexts. As a researcher, she collaborates with studies on mindfulness and depression among college students and is interested in implementing Mindfulness-based resilience training for public school teachers in Brazil. Geissy loves running, dancing, sunsets, plants, dogs, wine, and outdoor activities.
Jade De Araújo
University of Brasilia
"Effects of a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on autobiographical memory specificity of non-clinical adults"
Jade De Araujo is a Master's student in the Behavioral Sciences program with a concentration in Cognition and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Brasília, Brazil. She also studied Psychology at the University of Brasília as an undergraduate and received her Bachelor of Science degree with honors. Currently, her research interests are digital and scalable evidence-based interventions for anxiety and mood disorders, and cognitive functions in normal and pathological emotional states. On a regular day off, she loves to play tennis with her family and deeply enjoys spending some time in nature.
"Examining racial discrimination, insula cortex functional connectivity and dissociation in a trauma exposed black American women population"
Aziz Elbasheir is a 4th year PhD student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. He is currently researching the neurobiological mechanisms of the effects of racial discrimination on the mental health of people of color. Furthermore, Aziz is interested in how mind-body connections effect different clinical outcomes including dissociation and how social stressors such as racial discrimination might affect these clinical outcomes.
Ohio State University
"Mindfulness training on attentional control in older adults: A randomized placebo-controlled trial"
Megan is a fourth-year graduate student studying clinical psychology at Ohio State University. Her research uses behavioral and neural methodologies to understand how mindfulness impacts cognitive and emotional health in older adult populations. Megan also has a personal meditation practice and is a certified yoga instructor.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
"Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction alters neural responses associated with asthma outcomes"
Estelle is a second-year PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, working with Dr. Melissa Rosenkranz and Dr. Richie Davidson. At the Center for Healthy Minds, she focuses on neural, affective, and biological mechanisms of brain-mind-body connections and interventions in asthma. This clinical sample exemplifies the bidirectional relationships among emotions and stress, the brain, and the immune system. Individuals with asthma also offer an ideal chance for clinically impactful research on interventions that target the body through the mind. Using a psychoneuroimmunology framework, Estelle’s goal is to advance understandings of neural and physiological mechanisms of distress and resilience, to inform and personalize mind-body interventions.
"The impact of mindfulness training on working memory performance and microstructural integrity of major white matter tracts associated with the hippocampus"
Elizabeth Kaplan obtained a BS in Cognitive Neuroscience and a BA in Contemplative Studies, with honors in both departments, from Brown University in 2022. During her time at Brown, she focused on the intersection of these two fields with a particular interest in the ways in which contemplative practice can impact the structure and function of the brain. She completed an honors thesis, under the direction of Dr. Sara Lazar at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, which investigated the impacts of an 8-week mindfulness intervention on white matter microstructural integrity. Elizabeth is currently a research assistant working with Dr. Stephanie Jones within the Carney Institute at Brown University and will apply to graduate school this fall. She hopes to pursue a project during her doctoral training that allows her to continue exploring contemplative neuroscience and the ways in which neural modeling may further our understanding of the field.
University of California, Davis
"Interrogating mindfulness and self-other processing with thematic images of suffering and threat"
Brandon is an experimental psychologist interested in studying how contemplative practices can alter attentional and emotional engagement with suffering, as a possible prelude to compassionate responding. His research also focuses on developing new tools and methodologies for characterizing individual differences in responsivity to suffering and their correlates in autonomic physiology and memory. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of California, Davis, where he worked with Dr. Clifford Saron on research investigating the role of residential meditation retreats in contemplative practice. Brandon is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis.
"Absorption states called Jhana reduce the rigidity of Bayesian priors in the brain"
I am a cognitive neuroscientist and wellbeing aficionado, interested in the cognitive mechanisms underlying human flourishing. My research investigates contemplative practices that aim to bring about wholesome states of mind – from meditation and prayer to collective cultural rituals and psychedelic therapies. I work from an interdisciplinary perspective, combining cognitive, neurobiological, computational, and phenomenological approaches to shed light on mechanisms of self-regulation. I am currently pursuing my doctoral studies in Neuroscience at McGill University, supervised by Dr. Michael Lifshitz and co-supervised by Prof. Dr. Karl Friston. Previously, I completed a master’s in Mind, Language, and Embodied Cognition at the University of Edinburgh (UK) and undergraduate studies in Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University College Maastricht (Netherlands).
University of Maryland, College Park
"Feasibility of implementing a mindfulness-based online program for Latina immigrants and the staff that work with them"
Dr. Juliana Muñoz graduated from her Ph.D. in Behavioral and Community health from the University of Maryland in College Park. She has experience working in the academic, public, and non-profit sectors in middle and high income contries. She has worked on policy development, program implementation and monitoring and evaluation of different health programs and policies mostly focusing on mental health, socio-emotional skills and quality of life. For her dissertation, Juliana implemented a trauma-informed online mindfulness pilot with Latina immigrant mothers and the staff working with them. Juliana is deeply interested in implementation science and the role of trauma when implementing mindfulness programs with vulnerable populations.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
"Neurocircuitry, meditation, and mind-wandering: Distinct fMRI connectivity approaches contribute to biological understandings of conscious thought"
Hadley Rahrig is postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Healthy Minds. Her research is primarily concerned with the conceptualization and promotion of collective well-being. Comprehensively understanding collective well-being involves the investigation of emotional experiences at multiple levels using interdisciplinary approaches such as experience sampling, neuroimaging, naturalistic paradigms, and community-based participatory research. Her dissertation focused on emotions elicited from politically partisan media and their relevance for intergroup biases and interactions. She then tested the effects of mindfulness-based and cognitive reappraisal-based interventions on attenuating emotions such as fear, disgust, and anger as a means to reduce political intergroup bias. Dr. Rahrig continues to explore the biological bases of emotional well-being through the investigation of resting state brain networks and their relevance to emotion and social processes.
University of British Columbia
"Mind in motion: Tracing dynamics in the stream of thought through experience sampling"
Sneha has recently completed her PhD in the area of cognitive neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. Her research has focused on exploring the ongoing phenomenological and brain dynamics present in the internal stream of thought, using functional MRI and first-person methodologies. In addition to her scientific endeavours, Sneha is also dedicated to practicing Dhrupad sādhanā, the oldest living tradition of Indian classical music.
University of California San Francisco
"Longitudinal effects of naturalistic psilocybin use across age 18-60 in a representative U.S. sample: Examination of predictors on brain health and mindfulness"
Stal Shrestha is a graduate of the tri-institutional National Institutes of Health (NIH)-Karolinska Institute-University of Miami MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program. Since first beginning his neuroscience career at Harvard, Stal has been deeply committed to understanding brain function and neuropsychopharmacology. Stal pursued his PhD thesis in the NIH-Karolinska Clinical Neuroscience program under the joint mentorship of Drs. Robert Innis (MD, PhD; NIH) and Per Svenningsson (MD, PhD; Karolinska) investigating long-term effects of antidepressants on the serotonergic system. Subsequently, Stal worked on biomarkers of neuroinflammation, followed by a fellowship on substance use disorders from the University of California, San Francisco with Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris (PhD). Stal's diverse research endeavors have explored the realms of mindfulness and psychedelics, employing a multi-modal biosensing, machine learning, and neuroimaging approach.
"Silence practice modulates the resting state functional connectivity of language network with default mode and dorsal attention networks in long-term meditators"
Vaibhav recently finished his PhD in Brain, Behavior, and Cognition from Boston University, where he worked with David Somers on functional connectivity-based predictive modeling of cognitive states in both healthy and clinical populations. His research also involved mapping individualized sensory-biased and domain-general working memory regions within the prefrontal cortex. He has been a meditation practitioner and teacher for the last 15 years and is passionate about bridging the worlds of science and spirituality. He explores the spatiotemporal dynamics of meditation using neuroimaging techniques such as EEG and fMRI to study how brain activity changes across states of meditation. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University working with Randy Buckner focused on understanding the intricacies of large-scale brain networks, functional localization, and the spatiotemporal dynamics of cognition in both health and disease.
University of Toronto, Mississauga
"One size does not fit all: The importance of customized interventions in the promotion of student wellbeing"
Yiyi Wang is a 4th year PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, focusing on the study of mindfulness and its implications for overall wellbeing. Her research centers on the transformative potential of technology-based mindfulness practices, specifically examining their influence on emotion regulation, meaning-making, and value identification among individuals. Yiyi's current work also investigates the effectiveness of innovative mental health interventions, including online tools and self-developed chatbots, in enhancing students' coping skills and overall wellbeing.
Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School
"Jhana meditation inhibits the medial prefrontal cortex related to discursive thinking"
Dr. Yang is a cognitive neuroscientist with interdisciplinary research interests at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and advanced meditation. He earned his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Texas Tech University and is currently a research fellow under Dr. Matthew Sacchet at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Yang's academic journey into meditation research began with 20 years of personal practice and curiosity about the human mind, brain, and consciousness. Dr. Yang bridges ancient traditions with cutting-edge neurocognitive and neurophenomenological methods. He seeks to demystify these mechanisms to benefit the scientific community and individuals seeking well-being through meditation. He envisions translating his research into practical applications, including clinical interventions and tools to enhance meditation practice.
University of British Columbia
"Neural activation associated with the reporting of spontaneous thoughts in experienced mindfulness meditators"
Andre Zamani is a cognitive neuroscience researcher at the University of British Columbia, where he investigates the neurocognitive bases of spontaneous thought using methodological tools from behavioral experimentation, neuroimaging with fMRI, neurophenomenology, and psychological theory. Andre's most recent research asked experienced mindfulness meditators to report on the subtle arising of spontaneous thoughts into their conscious experience, while undergoing fMRI. Andre completed a BA in Psychology and Neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in 2019, an MA in Psychology from the University of British Columbia in 2023, and began pursuing a PhD in Psychology from the University of British Columbia in 2023.
University of Miami
"Trait mindfulness is associated with attentional vigilance and reductions in the occurrence of mind wandering"