Richard Davidson: How do your emotions controlled by the brain

Richard Davidson - a prominent neuroscientist, one of the first to study the effects of meditation on the human brain.


Dr. Davidson, you are considered one of the founders of emotional neuroscience. What is she studying?

Emotional neuroscience deals with the study of the neural mechanisms underlying human emotion. It just blossomed in the last 15 years due to the fact that we have new methods for the study and interpretation of brain structures - primarily fMRI technology. And we were able to find a connection between certain human emotions and specific areas of the brain with which these emotions are associated.

And thanks to this new method, you could open six human emotional style, which you write in your new book, The emotional life of your brain ( "How to manage emotions brain," Peter, 2012)?

Yes it is. Each of the six emotional styles, in fact, it describes the spectrum of emotional reactions that people experience due to the different situations that require emotional stress. It turned out that each of the six emotional spectra corresponding to specific neyronnnym circuits in our brain. It is very important to understand - I did not sit down one day and decided not to come up with six emotional styles, they appeared as a result of the enormous amount of empirical observations and experiments

. Could you briefly describe these styles and what exactly neural circuits are connected?

The first emotional style we call "sustainable" (still his "Emotional flexibility" can be called) - it describes how quickly or slowly a person recovers from the trouble. Those who quickly restored after the failure, show high activity in the left prefrontal cortex and active links between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala (which is associated with reactions of fear and anxiety).

The second emotional style we called "Prediction" - a kind of reverse side of stability, he describes how long a person is able to test and maintain positive emotions after some pleasant events. For our ability to predict meet the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens. If the kernel receives a lot of signals from the prefrontal cortex, a person has a positive prognosis. Low core activity due to the low contribution of the prefrontal cortex give a negative, pessimistic view of the world.

The third style - "Self-Consciousness", it is linked to how well a person is aware of the internal processes in your body, your body sensations, which are also associated with the emotions he is going through at the moment. In other words, when you are sad or when experiencing curiosity as these feelings are manifested in your body? What signals gives you your body? This style corresponds to the activity in the central area of ​​the brain and islet Reil. It is an island of Reil receives signals from internal organs, so a high level of activity in this area leads to a higher level of consciousness.

Fourth - "social sensitivity" (or "social instinct"). He describes how a person attentive and sensitive to a variety of non-verbal signals that come to him from the social environment, from other people. These signals can be intonations, facial expressions, body posture or change any movement views. The neural circuit corresponding to the style, connects the amygdala and the fusiform gyrus. The low level of activity in the gyrus, and high in the amygdala lead to the fact that people will demonstrate extreme insensitivity to other people.

Fifth style - "Sensitivity to context" (or "sensitivity to the situation"). For example the way you behave with your husband or wife is different from how you behave with your boss or your teacher of meditation, or with your therapist. This style describes how well we are able to evaluate the social context. It is linked to the hippocampus, which is also known for his role in the formation of long-term memories. This adjustment to the hippocampus is responsible for the behavior of a particular situation. What it is more and more actively, the better a person evaluates the context.

Sixth style - is "Care". Are you able on their own to focus on something and hold it in this task or this facility as long as you need it, or you immediately distracted? And how easily you can unsettle any external stimuli? It turned out that thoughtful people prefrontal cortex has a strong phase-locked loop in response to external stimuli.

Each of these styles at each time present in every person, they can be called the six dimensions of our emotional life. But as a rule, we do not realize how this style is manifested in us, it is strongly or weakly developed, and which of the six styles dominates at what times.


You were one of the first more than 40 years ago became interested in human emotions. You write in your book that in those years it was tantamount to scientific suicide. Then what prompted you to conduct these studies and continue?

Another quite struck by the fact, how different people react to the same events and circumstances in the early days of my career I have. I took up the study of emotions, because I thought that our emotional responses tell us something very important about what it means - to be a man, that is the basis of our human personality

. That emotion makes us unique, on anybody not similar. Look around - you should think about a person, and his way is necessarily associated to some emotional portrait: as far as he is friendly or irritable, or open a new cynical

. Later it became clear, and as a person and as a scientist, that emotions are strongly connected to our physical health and well-being. And if we learn to understand them and manage them, we will learn how to change their quality of life.

At the beginning of your research you found that the activity of certain neuronal circuits is given from birth and can not be changed. But now you say that using certain mental exercises we can change the activity of our neural circuits and as a result, our emotional styles, and our quality of life.

Genetics definitely contributes to the development of each emotional style. But the most significant contribution to their formation brings our experience and the circumstances in which it is formed. Emotional styles largely formed in response to the training, sometimes at a very young age. In addition, thanks to the discovery of the phenomenon of neuroplasticity, we now know that the activity of certain parts of the brain, and even their structure may change in response to new experiences.

And then the person offering specific tasks and exercises aimed at changing the activity and / or structure of a particular neural circuit, we can really change the way it manifested all six emotional styles. A person can develop their ability to better feel your body signals, it is better to read the context, be more careful look at the future more optimistically.

Do I understand correctly that you now know that if a person has depression or asthma, then this is due to the activity in a certain area of ​​the brain. You give it a set of exercises, and after three months or six months or a year, he no longer has depression or asthma?

It is important to understand that these exercises can not cure your physical or mental illness. But they can substantially reduce the symptoms. You see, this is not the complete study - we still have to learn many things about the emotional styles, and about how they can change

. We can not now give a quantitative estimate of how these exercises are changing every contour. But we do see that this is happening and what the appropriate emotional style changes. Symptoms of depression and asthma is significantly facilitated.

Can you give specific examples?

Oh sure. For example, in the case of depression, we used the practice of mindfulness. We taught depressed patients consciously direct attention to their negative thoughts about themselves and the world around, but watch them from the outside, just as the thoughts that come and go. Do not identify with them, to get to them a certain distance. We even taught them not to take these thoughts as they thought, and treat them as neutral as to others thoughts.

This technique proved to be extremely effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. But it works only if the constant, daily practice. It is not enough to read about it, you have to train, train your brain to respond differently.

In the case of asthma, we have so far are still many questions, we are just in the process of research. But we found that electrical circuits in our brain that are activated when the stress response are closely linked to inflammatory processes in the lungs of asthmatics, who are considered responsible for the attacks. Then we assumed that if we teach them to react differently to stress, it is appropriate to change the contours of the brain and affect inflammatory process.

We use simple techniques of mindfulness practice from the program John Kabat-Zinn's "Reducing stress through mindfulness practices" and otherwise teach asthmatics perceive stressful events and respond to them.

A key principle is that we often can not change the circumstances of your life immediately, and some events happen suddenly, but we can always change your attitude towards them.

And you already have the results?

We have not yet completed the investigation, but we see that asthma symptoms are dramatically reduced. We can not say that to cure these people. But their illness virtually makes itself felt.

You could not give a definition of what is a scientific point of view, attention and how you define for yourself meditation mindfulness?

In modern scientific terms, have attention to many different aspects. When I use the term "account" in my book, I mean the extent to which a person is able to focus and is able to remain in this state of focused attention, without being distracted, not allowing your mind to wander. From the point of view of neuroscience, this ability includes a large number of different processes in our brain, the result of which it is.

One definition of the word "meditation" in Sanskrit - "acquaintance." We can say that in the East, a whole family of psychiatric practices was developed, which was called meditation, and in fact a set of different strategies to introduce a man with his own mind.

mindfulness meditation refers to a type of meditation in which practitioners learn to intentionally and without judgment to direct your attention to the object, emotion, thought. And thanks to the fact that they learn not to judge themselves, their actions and mental processes, as well as others, they learn to change their emotional responses to external and internal stimuli.


I see behind you the photo of the Dalai Lama, in his book, you write that the meeting with him literally turned your ideas about what should be the subject of scientific study ...

Yes, we met in 1992, and he has had a very profound impact on my life and my career. When we first met, he asked me: "Why do scientists have always studied only the disease, but negative emotions? Why do not you do the study of happiness? ".

And the question I have absolutely shocked. I had no answer. I was literally speechless. Indeed, why it seems obvious to study depression and anxiety, but we do not use the same methods for the study of kindness and compassion ?!

It is the Dalai Lama inspired me to change the direction of my research - and we undertook a study of happiness, the practice of loving-kindness, compassion

. Buddhism for centuries people promises deliverance from suffering. This is one of its key provisions - suffering is due to ignorance, you do not have to suffer. And there is a practice of meditation that will help you to eliminate ignorance and get rid of suffering. Can it be said that modern science has accepted these postulates? And what is your "behavioral-inspired therapy based on mindfulness practice" also helps to get rid of the suffering of those who want a more secular approach?

I would put it softer. Today there is a large amount of scientific data obtained as a result of numerous studies as a Buddhist practitioner and secular varieties of meditation. These data indicate that these practices really change the human brain in a certain way, and as a result the person becomes much more healthy, both physically and psychologically. Also, changing his subjective assessment of their health and well-being.

At the same time there were people for whom nothing has changed, meditation is not to influence them. Their little, but they are there, and we still have no idea why this happened. However, when carried out research into new medicines, as there are always people on whom the medicine does not work.

Recently, several trials in the US are accused of serious crimes - such as pedophilia - were found not guilty, because their lawyers have proved that the cause of such behavior were tumors or other abnormalities in the brain. The defendants simply could not behave differently.

But if you look wider, it looks like we're all - hostages of their brain, their prefrontal cortex or amygdala. And then where is the line between the accused and, for example, your teenage son, who says that he can not learn, but can only play of DotA, because that is his brain structure?

It's very, very important and serious matter. There are situations where a result of injury, such as a car accident or as a result of organic lesions, people really can not affect some aspects of their behavior, and it is associated with structural and functional abnormalities in the brain. But I'm sure that in a broader sense, we all have to answer for their actions.

Human beings are by nature endowed with free will. And while each of us have an enormous influence of the environment and the specific features of the functioning of our brain, we are always present in the molecule of free will. And I believe we must consider each other as beings who are responsible for his life.

It is absolutely unacceptable to allow a teenager to manipulate you, on the pretext that his mind is so constituted. But what you can do is to try with him to develop special strategies that will help him to strengthen some neural circuits in his brain. For example, responsible for the ability to focus. Or for getting positive feedback.

If early childhood environment and experiences have a major impact on the formation of our psyche, and if these processes can be influenced, it seems obvious to start teaching children the practice of care at the age of 3-4 years. Are there any research on this matter?

I'm glad you asked about this, because this question was interested in me. And now we just spend a large study, it is not finished yet. This is a big project here in the United States, it involves preschoolers 4-5 years. We have developed a special program, which we called "Program of kindness." It lasts 12 weeks and includes the simple practice of mindfulness and kindness development, adapted for children.

For example, we ask them to lie on the floor and put them on his tummy small pebbles, and ask for five minutes watching as a stone falls and rises with their belly in time with your breathing. When such a short practice is done several times during the day, for a week each child recruited a total of 90 minutes of meditation.

We use a very strict research protocol, and measure the before and after the program level of empathy in children, indicators of their social behavior and academic achievement, cognitive ability to control - there are a lot of different criteria

. And the first data that we have received very promising. They show that children in the first place, can perfectly master these techniques, and secondly, these practices bring them huge benefits - they are better learners, feel better, get sick less, interact better with their classmates, parents, teachers
Your studies suggest yet another thought. Еще недавно информация была одним из главных факторов, влияющих на качество вашей жизни, ваше будущее, ваше здоровье. Чем лучше у вас компьютер, чем быстрее интернет, чем больше источников разнообразной информации доступно, тем больше у вас преимуществ, начиная с детства, а это влияет на ваш доход, здоровье и образ жизни в будущем.

Однако чем больше наука узнает о мозге человека и о том, как мы можем его изменять, тем яснее становится, что практики медитации могут дать человеку доступ к колоссальным ресурсам, скрытым в нем самом, причем независимо от его материального положения. И этом может сильно поменять мир в будущем. Что вы об этом думаете?

Я думаю, что это безусловно верное наблюдение. И сейчас есть много международных организаций, которые занимаются тем, что обучают простейшим светским техникам практики внимательности тысячи, десятки тысяч людей в Африке — детей и взрослых. Во многих бедных частях Азии также разворачиваются такие программы, хотя там, конечно, медитация является частью культуры.

Я уверен, что эти практики обладают гигантским потенциалом в смысле трансформации сознания отдельных людей и, как следствие, мира в котором мы живем. Я думаю, мало кто будет оспаривать тот факт, что если люди на планете станут более сострадательными и добрыми друг к другу, более способными управлять своими эмоциями и своей жизнью, фокусировать свое внимание на действительно важных вещах, мы будем жить в другом мире.

Не могли бы сказать несколько слов о ваших последних проектах. Неделю назад (декабрь 2013 г. — прим. автора) было опубликовано сообщение о том, что ваша группа доказала, что практика внимательности меняет экспрессию генов…

Да, спасибо за вопрос! Это очень важные результаты! Нам удалось совместно с учеными из Франции и Испании доказать, что даже короткий период практики внимательности, всего 8 часов, может изменить экспрессию наших генов. Чтобы было ясно, наша генетическая структура не меняется. Но можно сказать, что у каждого нашего гена есть что-то вроде “контроля громкости”, и в зависимости от этого он заявляет о себе едва слышно или очень гроко. И мы можем изменить эту громкость, почти выключить ее.

Мы выяснили, что 8 часов практики позволяют нам приглушить гены, которые связаны с воспалительными процессами в организме. А именно воспаление является главным компонентом огромного количества различных хронических болезней, например уже упоминавшейся сегодня астмы. И если медитация так сильно влияет на это воспалительные процессы, то это открывает перед наукой и медициной новые горизонты.

Ну и последний вопрос — вы медитируете каждый день? И если не секрет, то как долго и какие практики вы делаете?

Это абсолютно не секрет. Я практикую каждый день, от 30 до 45 минут, обычно 45 минут, и я делаю разные практики. Я занимаюсь практикой внимательности и я практикую медитацию любящей доброты и некоторые другие тибетские практики, направленные на развитие доброты и сострадания. И я сейчас уже не представляю мою жизнь без них.

Автор: Анастасия Гостева


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