Published by Free Publishing House in 2013, Collection “IQ 230” . Translated from English by V. Vidu
Authors Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley are researchers in the field of affective neuroscience at the U University of Wisconsin – Madison and officers of the National Institute of Child in USA. R. J. Davidson is director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at University Madison, former president of the Society for Research in Psychopathology in 1966-1968 and collaborator of Dan Goleman who launched the concept of emotional intelligence.
The publication has 11 chapters and 364 pages, it is designed by the latest research in the field of Multiple Intelligences, with focus on Emotional Intelligences that are dominated by the concept launched by RJ Davidson about EMOTIONAL STYLE (ES) and about the cerebral bases of ES, about the connections between mind – brain – body and ES, the links between normal and abnormal and about possibilities of neuropsychological remodelling of ES.
The authors argue and demonstrate that all emotions have a representation in the brain, as each body segment has a headquarter – a projection – in the brain. As medicine tends towards deciphering the DNA of patients for personalized treatments, so psychologically, individual psychiatry can be modelled by understanding individual patterns of brain activity that underlie emotional traits and states that define each of us.
According to Davidson, the smallest and most ephemeral emotion unit is an emotional state. It usually lasts a few seconds, can be triggered by a surge of joy or anger, or by momentary sadness. Whether they are triggered by real or by mental momentary experiences, they tend to dissipate, each preparing the ground for the next. An emotion that persists and remains unchanged for several minutes, hours or even days is an emotional disposition. A feeling that one experiences for a year or more is an emotional feature. What characterizes us as a fundamental feature of our emotional life is what Davidson called emotional style (ES).
ES is a consistent way to respond to our life experiences. It is governed by specific brain networks that are identifiable and measurable by means of objective laboratory methods. R. Davidson established that the Emotional Style includes 6 sizes that reflect the knowledge of modern neuroscience:
- Resilience: how slowly or quickly one recovers after some adversity.
- Perspective in support of positive emotions.
- Social intuition in taking social cues from people around.
- Self-awareness in the perception of body sensations that reflect emotions.
- Sensitivity to context of regulating emotional responses.
- Attention focused on concentration capacity.
These six enumerations have been selected by many methodical and rigorous experiments that allowed the scientist to understand how emotional intelligence functions. While presenting the authors’ and their teams’ research work to discover the bases of emotions and of their brain headquarters the book reveals that, in the beginning, this research was supported neither by psychologists, nor by other researchers. Studying emotion was quite controversial. However, between1975-1980, some opportunities appeared to broaden the visions of complementarity between the findings of Western science and the knowledge of ancient oriental philosophies. Only in 1992, after R. Davidson met with the Dalai Lama, his interest in the study of meditation and of positive emotions such as compassion and the state of well – being, has been ignited. This led to the belief that the seat of reason and of higher cognitive functions of the brain plays an important role in emotion similar to the one played by the limbic system. Thus, it was concluded that as each person has unique fingerprints and a unique face, in the same way, each person has a unique emotional profile. These somatic and affective profiles define our uniqueness. The existence of individual differences is the most remarkable feature of the human emotions.
Crucially, each dimension of Emotional Style is based in a specific pattern of brain activity. Brain imaging has shown that these dimensions reflect the biological activity in the cortex and in the limbic system: periventricular area of the hippocampus, the amygdala, the striatum and the parahippocampic area.
Figure 1 . Brain support of the Emotional Style: the brain with the limbic system
Among the interesting chapters that make this book a landmark of neuropsychiatry, I must mention: Chapter 4 entitled “Brain Basis of ES” Chapter 5, “How to develop ES”, Chapter 6 “Linking mind – brain – body or how ES influences our health”, Chapter 7, “Normal and abnormal and when being different becomes pathological”. This chapter devoted to psychopathology approached from the perspective of ES is presented by Davidson as depending on the resilience capacity, on difficulties in understanding social interactions which prevent people to establish close relationships and on disagreements of the other four dimensions of ES, all of them leading to major forms of psychiatric disorders. Therefore, the Emotional Style is a factor that influences the vulnerability of a child, a teenager or adult confronted with mental illness. Although ES cannot itself cause mental illness, it interacts with other factors to determine the development of mental illness. Psychiatry with neural bases: R. Davidson chooses that people should be placed on a neuroscientific fundamental continuum. He believes that psychiatric diagnosis based on symptoms in agreement with DSMs is not consistent with the way the brain works. This researcher prefers that, in the diagnostic, the ES dimensions should be used, giving the example of those pathologies triggered by the failure of social intuition, which has a key role in autism, of perspective that leads to the risk of depression, or of attention deficit that is responsible for ADHD.
Subchapters “Autism Spectre”, “A cerebral taxonomy of depression”, “Attention style and ADHD” are examined thoroughly and should be read word for word to get familiar with the views resulting from the current presentation.
Chapter “The plastic brain” emphasizes that the emotional style is a complex combination of inherited genes together with childhood experiences and learning. But ES reflecting brain patterns shaped by genes is not permanent, static and unchanging. Like all mental conditions due to the brain, ES is subject to the laws of neuroplasticity and the authors of the monograph present a history of cerebral fixism in opposition to development, plasticity and recovery possibilities of brain lesions.
As you know, neuroplasticity is the property of the brain to change its structure and functions significantly related to styles exerted on it.
Other interesting chapters follow such as “The power of mind over matter”, those that promote meditation and its teachings in the area of neuroscience, the study of compassion and empathy, psychotherapy, social intuition, all converging towards opportunities for training and educating the emotional style .
The bibliography has many important titles that complement the research of the two authors .
The book “The Emotional Life of Your Brain” reads easily and is required reading for updating our knowledge.