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The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them Paperback – December 24, 2012
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"Whether he is measuring neural activity in the laboratory or climbing the Himalayas to meet the Dalai Lama, Davidson is an inveterate explorer who has spent a lifetime probing the deep mystery of human feeling. Don't miss this smart and lively book by the world's foremost expert on emotion and the brain."—Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D., author of Stumbling on Happiness
"The Emotional Life of Your Brain is an eye-opener, replete with breakthrough research that will change the way you see yourself and everyone you know. Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley make a star team: cutting-edge findings formulated in a delightful, can't-put-it-down read. I loved this book."—Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence
"What a gift from the world's leading neuroscientist who works on what makes life worth living. This is a must-read for everyone who is interested in positive psychology."—Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., author of Learned Optimism
About the Author
Richard J. Davidson is a professor and director of the W. M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior and the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Sharon Begley is the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters. She is the bestselling author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.
Top customer reviews
The 6 categories of Emotional Style are:
- Resilience: How slowly or quickly you recover from adversity.
- Outlook: How long you are able to sustain positive emotion.
- Social Intuition: How adept you are at picking up social signals from the people around you.
- Self-Awareness: How well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions.
- Sensitivity to Context: How good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in.
- Attention: How sharp and clear your focus is.
At first I was wary of this approach, as there are numerous classification systems for emotions that strike me as somewhat arbitrary. After a while though, it sunk in and I realized how fundamentally these functions affect the contours (ups and downs) and contexts of our emotional states, and how we perceive and react to our social world. It is also extremely interesting to understand the basis for these characteristics in terms of brain function, something which is rarely tackled in a satisfactory way. Sometimes he seems to paint with too broad of a brush, probably a reflection of how much has yet to be learned, but overall it is very illuminating stuff.
In addition to helping readers understand the workings of the brain, readers are encouraged by the author to evaluate their own particular Emotional Style and consider how they might change it. He discusses many ways that the extreme ends of certain emotional style categories give rise to serious difficulties in life for some people (depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, social ineptitude, etc). The plasticity of the brain is emphasized, and the author gives very specific suggestions of ways to change if the reader so desires. I don't want to give the impression that this is merely a "self-help" type of book, as that would seriously underestimate the content here.
A very significant contribution the author makes is his evaluation of the effects of meditation on the brain. Richard Davidson is perhaps the foremost researcher in the world investigating the connection between meditation and brain function, and has worked closely with the Dalai Lama to recruit experienced monk meditators for brain scans (fMRI & EEG), in addition to studying how novice meditators' brains change over shorter periods of time. I have read other books on meditation and the brain (Buddha's Brain, The Blissful Brain) and this book has the strongest scientific basis by far.
In the course of the book, the author describes numerous experiments throughout his career that gave rise to these findings. It was interesting to learn how these discoveries came about, and to consider the efficacy of his methods. In fact, a good deal of time is spent on the narrative of the author's career and research methods. This might be off-putting for some people, but I found it to be a good framework to understand the methods used for this research, and to learn of the author's personal trajectory towards studying positive emotion, the brain, and meditation, though sometimes the author seems to take a tad too much credit (or perhaps he really is that important).
I have no doubt there is a great deal more we don't know about emotion regulation, but the neural circuits described here will inevitably play a foundational role for what is discovered in the future.
The biggest idea presented in this book is the idea of the emotional style. The emotional style has six dimensions: Resilience style, Outlook style, Social Intuition style, Self-Awareness style, Sensitivity to Context style, and Attention style. The resilience style is how you recover from different setbacks. Outlook style refers to how positive one could stay even if things don't go her way. The social intuition style is how well one could read other peoples body language. The self-awareness style, which refers to how well a person, knows what she is feeling and the ability to listen to messages from her body. Sensitivity to context style is how well one understands when it's appropriate to say certain things in different situations as well as to different people. Finally, the attention style, which refers to how well a person could stay focused when he is feeling different emotions or has different distractions such as playing video games and not being able to see what is going on around him. Each person has a unique emotional style based on those six dimensions. Where each dimension could be viewed as a scale of 1-10; 1 having the least amount of the style and 10 having the most of such style. Obviously 1-10 is just an easy way to define our emotional style but since we are all different each of our styles would probably have a very long decimal. Each of these emotional styles is found as either connections or high activity or both in certain areas of the brain. This book does an excellent job explaining the activity of the brain for each emotional style. It includes various illustrations as well as experiment performed to figure out the activity and how it connects to each style.
Once this idea of emotional style is well established in the book. There is actually a self-assessment to figure out the magnitude we have of each emotional style. Once this self-assessment is complete the reader learns about the different circuits and areas of the brain that cause each emotional style. This is a great organizational idea since the readers are more influenced to read and understand what is going on in their own brain especially since they already should know their emotional style. A Similar idea is followed for the next two chapters as Richard explains how each emotional style influences health and when an emotional style is normal, abnormal, and or pathological. The different types of emotional styles do affect our health and the outcome of the one research example, which stood out to me was that people who are generally happy and are quicker and harder to get sick compared to people who aren't as generally happy. In the chapter about emotional styles being normal or abnormal, he presented this interesting idea that people who are not necessarily viewed as the most desirable emotional style combination often are able to provide society with a service that is very useful to us. For example Secret Service agents have a very Socially Intuitive style that allows them to observe many nonverbal cues in the environment very well. And when a person has too much or too little of a certain style he might develop what is known as a pathological disease. An example of one would be autism.
After the above ideas of social style are fully developed and presented, Richard presents the idea of neuroplasticity. He presents the idea as a general overview, not connecting it to the idea of emotional style until the very end of the chapter. This is a good thing however because this allows him to explain the idea of neuroplasticity very well and it allows the reader to see how it actually connects to the idea of emotional style. The next chapters are about how it is possible to change the emotional style, which is possible because of the idea of neuroplasticity. He talks about his studies of individuals who meditate and the common results he finds between their emotional styles. Basically there are different types of meditations that all we to develop or help develop a certain style. Since not everyone is into mediation, in the next chapter he explains different methods or steps to take in order to increase or decrease a degree we have of a certain emotional style.
This book is very well organized; it starts out with the background information on Richard's journey to get the idea of emotional style then the explanation of emotional style. How each of them affects the society and us. The chapter about neuroplasticity is almost like a bridge between the ideas of an emotional style being concrete to being completely changeable socially after Richard shows how it could be done. I feel like this book is something that could be picked up again and again since because of a couple specific chapters and because our brain does change and so does our emotional style. When this happens we could always go back and reevaluate our emotional style and if we don't like a certain aspect of it we can either look at the different methods of mediation chapter or the chapter on the steps to take to alter our emotional style. I highly recommend this book because of how much useful information it contains and because it is very easy to understand.
Most recent customer reviews
Exactly where I wanna be :D