Autobiographical memory (AM) is linked to the construct of self, which is influenced by mindfulness training. Furthermore, both self-reference and AM can be affected by psychopathological conditions, such as depression. This article offers a critical review with a systematic search of the studies using different paradigms to investigate the effects of mindfulness training on AM, as well as the relationships between trait mindfulness and AM.
The review includes studies with behavioral, self-report, and neuroimaging methods by considering both non-clinical and clinical investigations in an integrative perspective. Fifty articles were reviewed. The review addressed the following main fields: mindfulness and autobiographical memory specificity; mindfulness and emotional autobiographical recall; and self-inquiry into negative autobiographical narratives and mindfulness. An additional section analyzed 18 studies that addressed the effects of mindfulness training on memory flashbacks.
In line with the hypotheses, grounded on theories of AM, self, conscious processing, memory reconsolidation, and Buddhist psychology, the review results suggest that the influences of mindfulness training and trait mindfulness on AM can be related to enhanced cognitive, emotional, and self-referential flexibility. This influence is also associated with improved meta-awareness, acceptance, and the flexibility to shift from a first- to a third-person self-perspective in AM recall. In particular, the review highlights increased self-referential flexibility related to mindfulness, which during AM recall would enable a more balanced retrieval of episodic, semantic, and emotional contents, as well as increased AM specificity and reduced emotional reactivity. A mindfulness-related reconsolidation of the links between AM traces and the self might play a crucial role. The mindfulness-related changes of the experiences during AM recall may be translated into long-term reconsolidation-related changes in the AM traces, with a potential interactive effect on the self, thus becoming more flexible. The review also highlights brain mechanisms underlying these influences, given by changes in activity and functional connectivity of core regions in the default mode network (medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex), salience network (anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula), and central executive network (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). Finally, we suggest new research developments from the review and the related theoretical perspective.
The review results, together with the proposed theoretical accounts, bridge a set of investigations on several autobiographical memory phenomena and mindfulness, and might usefully lead to further studies, also with relevant clinical and cognitive neuroscience implications.