Richard J. Davidson is one of the world’s leading neuroscientific researchers, and also has a Ph.D. in Personality, Psychopathology, and Psychophysiology from Harvard University. He is a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and is currently Director for the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience, Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. In recent years, Davidson’s career has led him towards a passion for unlocking the scientific roots of compassion, altruism, and peaceful human relationships — and away from his past focus on anxiety- and fear-based research.
In his latest book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live–and How You Can Change Them, Davidson explains how based on what we know about the plasticity of the brain, we can think of things like happiness and compassion as skills that are no different from learning to play a musical instrument, or training in golf or tennis. Happiness, like any skill, requires practice and time but because we know that the brain is built to change in response to mental training, it is possible to train a mind to be happy. Over the course of several decades, the world of neuroscience has discovered that there are six dimensions to the human brain. Davidson explains how each of these six dimensions can be thought of as spectrums a scale of 1-100, and it is your unique set of 6 settings that determines your “emotional style, a consistent way of responding to the experiences of our lives.”
1) RESILIENCE: How you bounce back from a setback (i.e. too quickly or too slowly)
2) OUTLOOK: Your outlook on life on a scale of positive-to-negative (i.e. how your perceive your future will play out)
3) SELF AWARNESS: Your level of awareness of your bodily signals (i.e. some are overwhelmed by the feeling of a pounding heart or screaming nerves, while others don’t notice a thing)
4) SOCIAL INTUITION: The ability to read another person’s eyes and body language to know what they’re thinking (i.e. people with autism have a very difficult time doing this)
5) ATTENTION: Your ability to focus, and how broad your attentional receptivity is (i.e. when stressed we are not very good at paying attention, and there are some people whose emotional style is to be stressed continuously)
6) SENSITIVITY TO CONTEXT: Your ability to you display the proper level of emotion given the situation at hand.
Davidson’s book is filled with a variety of mental exercises that he says you can do to help strengthen certain neural connections in the brain associated with specific attributes you would like to adopt, whether it’s more optimism, better resilience to stress, or a strong sensitivity to context. “Just like we didn’t know about the importance of physical exercise until 50 years ago, I think mental exercise is on the verge of taking on the same kind of importance,” Davidson said. You can read a few of Davidson’s bullet points on how to achieve this kind of change in your brain by visiting The Boston Globe. Davidson was also a recent guest on Charlie Rose’s late night roundtable, along with Sharon Begley, and the three share a fascinating conversation about brain plasticity, the concepts and exercises contained within the book, and intimate details of Davidson’s longtime friendship with the Dalai Lama. You can also purchase your own copy of The Emotional Life of Your Brain by visiting Amazon. In 2000, Davidson received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, for lifetime achievement from the American Psychological Association, and TIME magazine recently named Dr. Davidson one of the World’s Top 100 Most Influential People.
TO WATCH DAVIDSON’S INTERVIEW WITH CHARLIE ROSE CLICK HERE (AND CLICK ON DAVIDSON’S IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO PLAYER).