Cortisol homeostasis is important for cognitive and affective functions that depend on cortisol-sensitive brain regions including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Recent studies have shown that training induces changes in the brain. We report the findings of a longitudinal study that verified the moderation effect of experience-induced changes in awareness on the neural-cortisol association in cortisol-sensitive brain regions. These findings provide the first piece of evidence that planned behavioral experience can moderate the neural-cortisol association. A range of changes in awareness was achieved in a sample of 21 Chinese participants, divided into two groups: Awareness-based compassion meditation (ABCM) (n = 10) and relaxation (n = 11). We observed that changes in awareness were significant moderators of hippocampal-cortisol changes. Furthermore, a significant negative association between changes in plasma cortisol level and the resting-state synchrony of the right hippocampal and insular-frontal-operculum regions was observed. These novel findings shed light on the inter-relationships between changes in hippocampal-cortisol levels and changes in awareness and preliminarily identify the neural underpinnings of interventions for cortisol-related abnormal functioning for further study.
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