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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 Ca n Change Them Hardcover – March 1, 2012
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For more than thirty years, Richard Davidson has been at the forefront of brain research. Now he gives us an entirely new model for understanding our emotions, as well as practical strategies we can use to change them.
Davidson has discovered that personality is composed of six basic emotional "styles," including resilience, self-awareness, and attention. Our emotional fingerprint results from where on the continuum of each style we fall. He explains the brain chemistry that underlies each style in order to give us a new model of the emotional brain, one that will even go so far as to affect the way we treat conditions like autism and depression. And, finally, he provides strategies we can use to change our own brains and emotions-if that is what we want to do.
Written with bestselling author Sharon Begley, this original and exciting book gives us a new and useful way to look at ourselves, develop a sense of well-being, and live more meaningful lives.
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"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., 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 — Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., author of Learned Optimism
About the Author
Sharon Begley has been the science editor and science columnist at Newsweek as well as science columnist at The Wall Street Journal.
- Publisher : Hudson Street Press; First Edition (March 1, 2012)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1594630895
- ISBN-13 : 978-1594630897
- Item Weight : 1.24 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.25 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #377,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #926 in Emotional Mental Health
- #1,149 in Cognitive Psychology (Books)
- #7,833 in Personal Transformation Self-Help
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on September 10, 2019
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Superb suggestions are provided with great care, clarity and just enough detail. Highly recommended.
It’s far more valuable than I ever imagined upon purchase and I expected mountains then. I continually read and learn from it almost three years later. Sincerely!
💥💥🤔 ...I am adding a quick note after submitting this review yesterday. It would have taken much more time for me to adequately describe the values of the vast amount of information in this book. It is so comprehensive yet very systematically presented and largely in a story form. Which adds to the joy of reading. But most importantly in my estimation is the depth, clarity, precision and compassion that one can sense all through the pages. It encapsulates all of my concerns and also what I have learned and hoped for in improving our ways of helping people with behavioral difficulties of many variations. A perfect example is the bottom half of p159 and p160. It suggests so much in just these few paragraphs. I hope I have been helpful !
Three of these ideas are worth highlighting here. The first is that contrary to the way we tend to think about it, personality and temperament, though innate, are not fixed or immutable. That traditional view was reinforced in the age of genetics by "The dogma that `genetic equals unchangeable.'" If a "negative" trait (say shyness) is inherited and in your genes, you're stuck with it. Instead, says Davidson, "plasticity is intrinsic to the brain," and its "ability to change its structure and function in significant ways" extends into adulthood and "through the life of the individual."
The second idea is that such "change can come about in response to experiences we have as well as to the thoughts we think." Traits that are genetically based can be altered because "the mere presence of a gene is not sufficient for the trait for which it codes to be expressed. A gene must also be turned on, and studies . . . have shown that life experiences can turn genes on or off." Thus, "In terms of the shopworn debate called nature vs. nurture, nurture is able to act on nature." Our brain can be altered by these "experiences as well as by conscious, intentional effort . . . through the intentional cultivation of specific mental qualities or habits."
And, thirdly, the reason such change is possible is that head and heart are more closely linked in the brain than previously thought: "the barricade that psychology had erected between reason and emotion has no basis in fact." Emotion involves neural activity in the right and in the left side of the brain, in the amygdala and in the prefrontal cortex. "The circuitry of the emotional brain often overlaps with that of the rational, thinking brain," so that "Emotion works with cognition in an integrated and seamless way to enable us to navigate the world of relationships, work, and spiritual growth."
These ideas have broad implications. They suggest that we are not irremediably shaped by our genes, upbringing, environment, or of this or that neural circuitry in our limbic system. We are not at the mercy of our emotions. We can change because our brain can change.
The question of course is how. Davidson answers this question in the terms of traditional psychology by focusing on personality and temperament, offering a new classification of these traits which he calls "Emotional Style." His claim is that "Understanding the neural underpinnings of the six dimensions of Emotional Style can empower you to recognize your own" overall style and apply various techniques he recommends to change it in the direction you desire.
Briefly stated, the six dimensions are: Resilience (how fast you recover from adversity); Outlook (optimist vs. pessimist); Social Intuition (how adept you are at picking up social signals); Self-Awareness (how well you are in touch with your feelings); Sensitivity to Context (how well you adapt your emotional responses to a given context); and Attention (how well you can focus).
To get an idea of the problems that arise with Davidson's model, let us consider an example he gives of a situation involving two of these categories: "You might be irritable for a whole day after a morning argument with a coworker but not realize that your funk is the result of being Slow to Recover (This ability to introspect and understand our own emotions is an aspect of the Self-Awareness dimension)."
Now, suppose I answer the book's questionnaires for these categories, identify their neural correlates in the brain, conclude my styles are "Slow to Recover" and "Self-Opaque," and follow Davidson's techniques in the back of the book so that, assuming they work, I'm able to recover faster after my morning argument with my coworker.
Does that improve my relationship with my coworker? Not necessarily. In fact, it could even worsen it, for the more successfully I reduce their negative impact on me and the faster I recover from these arguments the easier it is to continue having them. They just won't bother me that much anymore. But they may bother my co-worker, other colleagues, and my boss. My "resilience" could actually end up making a lot of people unhappy, affect my work, and even cost me my job.
This is because traits of personality and temperament do not necessarily correlate with the rightness or wrongness of what I'm doing. They are not moral categories. A high degree of optimism can lead me to take unreasonable risks in business or the stock market and leave me in financial ruin. High social intuition, self-awareness, and sensitivity to context can all help me manage myself better the better to lie and manipulate people. Being highly focused can help me succeed in my career even as it leads me to neglect my family and fail as a spouse and as a parent.
In the situation cited by Davidson, I need to look at more than my "emotional style." I need to look at what I might be doing wrong, at the moral dimensions of the situation. This means looking at my character, understood as a moral category. Traits of character determine whether a trait of personality or temperament serves a morally worthy or unworthy end, whether it works for good or for ill. But Davidson's model, which is based on personality and temperament to the exclusion of character, makes no provision for such considerations.
A more effective model for personal growth is found in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, whose principles, it should be noted, can be practiced by anyone. One of these principles is the discipline of self-examination, where I make an inventory of my character defects and associated emotions, taking into account the positive character traits and associated emotions which can displace and replace them. Considered principles of the good life, these positive character traits are traditionally known as virtues, among which, honesty, for instance, is essential to the process of self-examination.
Honestly looking at myself in the above situation, I might find that my "funk" is the result of my nursing a resentment against my coworker. I may be "irritable" because I'm still angry over something she said or did that affected something that is important to me (e.g. my self-esteem), and I've been obsessing about it all day. Upon further examination, I may discover that I said or did something which started or contributed to the argument, and that behind my words and actions there were certain character defects at work, perhaps impatience, or unkindness, or intolerance. My adversity, as is often the case with many of us, may have been self-inflicted.
Having made such an examination, I move to take corrective action by practicing other applicable principles. Where I am in the wrong, I promptly and humbly admit it, and I sincerely make amends. Where my coworker is in the wrong, I forgive, turn the matter over, and let go of any ill feelings.
By practicing these principles, I can surrender my resentment and obsession, reconcile with my coworker, and restore peace and harmony to our relationship. Not only do I recover from negative emotions myself, but I can help my coworker to do the same. My recovery goal is not self-centered. I'm not selfishly concerned only about my own well-being.
Depending on the situation, I will find other principles that can help me to recover from adversity: after a loss, for instance, acceptance of the things I cannot change, and gratitude for the things I still do have. By practicing such principles day in and day out and in situation after situation, I am engaging in the kind of conscious, intentional, and repeated effort which Davidson says can help me to acquire the habits which can alter my brain and reshape my thoughts and emotions. I will become better at recovering from adversity, but my recovery will reflect fundamental character and emotional changes, not just an improved personality trait (more resilient).
That personality and temperament are malleable, that emotion and cognition work in an integrated manner, and that experience and thought can reshape the brain are important ideas in Davidson's book. When it comes to translating these ideas into practice, however, the 12 Steps remain the best program of action.
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.
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That being said, the remainder of the book is replete with new age narratives and incessant reiterations of Emotional Style (always beginning with capitals, a thoroughly irritating ploy). Davidson's underlying concepts explaining his findings are highly outdated and reek of the social constructionist movement that dominated psychological thinking in the late 80's. The functional analysis of human cognition and emotion had already realized the plasticity inherent in humans almost three decades ago, with contemporary evolution science only realizing the necessity of assessing the activity of an organism as a whole.
I suggest Dr. Davidson read the attached link to appreciate how far a field has come conceptually and empricially