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Mindfulness-based interventions are thought to reduce compulsive behavior such as overeating by promoting behavioral flexibility. Here we aimed to provide support for mindfulness-mediated improvements in reversal learning, a direct measure of behavioral flexibility. We investigated whether an 8-week mindful eating intervention improved outcome-based reversal learning relative to an educational cooking (i.e., active control) intervention in a non-clinical population. Sixty-five healthy subjects with a wide BMI range (19-35 kg/m2), who were motivated to change their eating habits, performed a deterministic reversal learning task that enabled the investigation of reward- and punishment-based reversal learning at baseline and following the intervention. No group differences in reversal learning were observed. However, we found that time invested in the mindful eating, but not the educational cooking intervention correlated positively with changes in reversal learning, in a manner independent of outcome valence. Our findings suggest that greater amount of mindfulness practice can lead to increased behavioral flexibility, which, in turn, might help overcome compulsive eating in clinical populations.
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