On mental states, mindfulness, and self-transcendent experiences

News Vanderbilt University

In psychology, feelings of oneness and self-loss are often described as symptoms of psychopathology, but might they also be associated with well-being? An interdisciplinary team of psychologists and neuroscientists thinks so. The group, including David Vago, the director of research at Vanderbilt’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, was put together by David Yaden, a research fellow in the Positive Psychology Center and Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences.

In a recent article “The Varieties of Self-Transcendent Experience,” published in the American Psychology Association journal Review of General Psychology, the team identified a number of mental states that involve a sense of unity and self-loss that tend to be associated with positive mental states and outcomes, like well-being. These mental states are mindfulness, flow, some positive emotions such as love and awe, and even peak and mystical experiences.

The team worked together to compile a broad range of research on self-transcendent experience from the fields of social psychology, clinical psychology, and affective neuroscience.

“Getting at how the mind and brain represent time, space, and self are very deep questions in psychology, and I think that these experiences can help to illuminate those topics,” David Yaden.

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