Judson Alyn Brewer MD/PhD

Assistant Professor (Adjunct) of Psychiatry

Research Interests

Addiction; Cognitive Control; Mindfulness training; Relapse Prevention; Smoking Cessation; Meditation; Default mode network; real-time fMRI; neurofeedback

Current Projects

  • Mindfulness training for smoking cessation
  • fMRI activation during mindfulness meditation
  • Self-reported mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation measures

Research Summary

We are also interested in what happens to the brain when people practice mindfulness meditation. To this end, we are studying brain activity in experienced and novice meditators using real-time fMRI and EEG. We hope that this will help us develop better ways to help people manage stress, quit smoking etc.

My laboratory also studies how mindfulness training might help people quit smoking and using alcohol and other drugs. We also are looking to see how mindfulness training might change the way the brain activates when we see triggers for cigarette or drug use or when we get stressed out.

Extensive Research Description

My primary research interest is the elucidation of neurobiological mechanisms underlying the interface between stress, mindfulness and the addictive process, and in developing effective means for the modulation of these processes to better treat substance use disorders. In such, the principal focus of my laboratory is on studying mindfulness training as a mechanistic probe and treatment for addictions. Using neurobiological and physiological probes such as real-time fMRI, skin conductance, and heart rate variability, we measure the effects that mindfulness training has on stress provocation and treatment outcomes in individuals with addictive disorders.

Additionally, my laboratory is interested in improving methods to assay mindfulness practice and acquisition. We are working to delineate brain activation patterns during specific meditation techniques, and to link these to physiological and behavioral measures. Ultimately, we hope to be able to use this knowledge to not only more accurately measure neurophysiological correlates of mindfulness, but to improve mindfulness acquisition using techniques such as neurofeedback, leading to directly measurable effects on health outcomes.

Selected Publications

  • Garrison, K. M., Scheinost, D., Worhunsky, P. D., Elwafi, H. M., Thornhill IV, T. A., Thompson, E., Saron, C., Desbordes, G., Kober, H., Hampson, M., Gray, J. R., Constable, R. T., Papademetris, X., J. A. Brewer. (2013) “Real-time fMRI links subjective experience with brain activity during focused attention” NeuroImage 81:110-118.
  • Garrison, K. M., Santoyo, J. F., Davis, J. H., Thornhill IV, T. A., Thompson, Kerr, C. E., Brewer, J. A. (2013) “Effortless awareness: using real-time neurofeedback to probe correlates of posterior cingulate cortex activity in meditators’ self-report.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7: 440.
  • Elwafi, H. M., Witkiewitz, K., Mallik, S., Thornhill, T. A., Brewer, J. A., (2013) “Mechanisms of mindfulness training in smoking cessation: moderation of the relationship between craving and cigarette use.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 130(1-3): 222-29.
  • Brewer, J. A. and Garrison, K. M. (2013) “The posterior cingulate cortex as a plausible mechanistic target of meditation: Findings from neuroimaging.” Annals of NYAS (in press).
  • Brewer, J. A., Davis, J. H., Goldstein, J. (2013) “Why is it so hard to pay attention, or is it? Mindfulness, the factors of awakening and reward-based learning.” Mindfulness 4: 75-80.
  • Brewer, J. A., Elwafi, H. M., Davis, J. H. (2012) “Craving to Quit: psychological models and neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness training as treatment for addictions.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 27(2): 366-79.
  • Libby, D. J., Worhunsky, P. D., Pilver, C. E., J. A. Brewer. (2012) “Meditation-induced changes in high-frequency heart rate variability predict smoking outcomes.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 6:54.
  • Brewer, J. A., P. D. Worhunsky, J. R. Gray, YY Tang, J. Weber, H. Kober. (2011) “Meditation training is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity.” PNAS 108(50): 20254-9.
  • Brewer, J. A., S. Mallik, T. A. Babuscio, C. Nich, H. E. Johnson, C. M. Deleone, C. A. Minnix-Cotton, S. Byrne, H. Kober, A. Weinstein, K. M. Carroll, B. J. Rounsaville. (2011) “Mindfulness Training for smoking cessation: results from a randomized controlled trial.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 119: 72-80.
  • Brewer, J. A., S. Bowen, J. T. Smith, G. A. Marlatt, M. N. Potenza, (2010) “Applying Mindfulness-Based Treatments to Co-Occurring Disorders: What Can We Learn From the Brain?” Addiction 105: 1698-1706.


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