Monday, April 9, 2012


There's an exciting new concept -- each and every person has an "Emotional Style." Scientific research has found there is a "neural basis" for our responses to life. And we can change them.

Right off the bat, I learned that every individual has his own "emotional fingerprint." These are the key elements: 1.Resilience. 2. Outlook, 3. Self-awareness. 4.Social intuition. 5. Attention. 6.Sensitivity to Context.

Not sure what these terms mean, I tried them on like stage masks. It sort of made "acting" sense.

Then, I tested them on my face. They were hard to do.

The book "The Emotional Life of Your Brain," by Richard Davidson, PHD, with Sharon Begley, Newsweek reporter, inspired these two authors to write a well-crafted article that gathered up the essence of what's in the book, and revealed how you can be in control of you, and your emotional ups and downs.

Emotional ups and downs have been my cup of tea as a performer and wife of an actor, who sometimes needs my directorial eye. So I read on. I have boiled down what I gathered from the article.

PHD author Davidson said, " In decades of research into the neurobiology of emotion, I’ve seen thousands of people who share similar backgrounds respond in dramatically different ways to the same experience." He carefully, not briefly, explained that just as each person has a unique fingerprint and a unique face, each of us has a unique emotional profile. (i.e. the authors wanted us readers to know that people are different.)

The article stated, "This is where the theory of emotional style breaks new ground." After mentioning the usual rats and animal tests, it explained that one's "positive emotions" sit in your frontal cortex behind the forehead -- one's "animalistic instincts, " terrors, fear, anger, and anxiety are deep within the brain's "limbic" system.

I looked it up -- it's the brain structures, common to all mammals, that are involved in olfaction, emotion, motivation, and behavior.

The researchers have learned that if you're "resilient" there's 30 times more activity in your prefrontal lobes. Measuring eye blinks of volunteers reacting to 51 pictures that had varying degrees of ugliness, scientists have learned about "sensitivity" to context.

Based on blinks and other research which the article detailed and explained, when the prefrontal cortex is involved, it shortens the time "amygdala" are involved. (I looked it up -- they're the almond-shaped mass of gray matter in the "temporal lobe.")

The good news is that you can change. You can cultivate greater "resilience" (This word, used frequently throughout the article was not explained -- I didn't look it up. I figure it meant more of less what it usually means.)

Researchers studied London taxicab drivers who must learn how to navigate the complicated network of streets; they also studied violin virtuosos who master complex fingering by repetition and practice. Based on what the researchers actually saw in MRI's, they proved that the brain changes when you repeat a routine or an exercise. They have concluded that with mental activity -- meditation, and behavior therapy -- an individual can develop a deeper sensitivity to his own feelings, and develop a more consistently positive outlook and greater capacity for resilience.

I must say, this seemed unnecessarily complicated. If you exercise, you get stronger muscles, and strong muscles help you do you work better, faster, more easily.

Anyhow, calling this "Mindfulness Meditation," the researchers stated that this meditation helps depressed individuals, who think bad thoughts over and over. You can weaken the connection between your prefrontal cortex and the amygdala by deliberately focusing on the negative thoughts. Repeating them over and over can activate your "circuits." When activated, you can move into the resilience "dimension."

As I read on and on, my resilience was definitely decreasing -- I couldn't help wondering what all this stuff was really saying.

Clearly, it's a hot topic that's selling magazines. A few weeks ago, Time Magazine had an article touting the science of building will power, a cute girl ogling a yummy cup cake, and summaries of three books on the subject -- "The Will Power Instinct," by Kelly McGonigal; "Willpower" by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney packed with science and celebrities as examples; "The Power of Habit, "by Charles Duhigg.

You can buy the books, or take this test in Newsweek.

Click this link. Keep track of "True" or "False" answers; add
them up and you'll know if you're slow to recover or resilient.

I took the test. Goody. I'm resilient. I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, what I learned was a lot of malarky -- i.e. hooey.


eddie rotten said...

BRILLIANT! Believing in yourself is the key to opening doors. Sometimes its really hard to be positive, but then I read a beautiful post like this and I'm humbled again. My life is good. Thanks EM!

Carola said...

I scored exactly 3. Not bad. I've learned that when something relatively minor upsets me, I will stew over it for a day or even 2 (if it's not that minor in my book), but I'll eventually moosh it over with my brain. Having that foreknowledge makes the stewing less bad while it's going on.

Anonymous said...

Very informative and subject I hadn't read about yet. I took the test and found I am resilient so that is good news. They must have had a large grant to do all the hundreds of MRI's on subjects cause they cost about $1000/scan. Thanks for sharing!

Ameer S. Washington said...

I definitely agree that this isn't really groundbreaking but more so informative. It seems intuitive to people who already have themselves in line, and most of us inherently know. It's just that when you're in a funk, it's difficult to put thoughts into action. So having a reference point of things you can do, exercise you can complete, or a routine that you can copy and then modify to fit you and your life is very helpful. The brain is a magnificent thing. I think this was an awesome piece of info to put out. Well structured too.

Maureen Jacobs said...

Definitely resilient.

Great blog today.....

Unknown said...

I don't understand it all particularly today EM ~ but I think I'm with ya on "what I learned was a lot of malarky -- i.e. hooey."
* * * *
I think I can say the 'emotional life of my brain' had a whole lot more to do with environment and circumstances, external factors and influences, especially as a young child.
* * *
I wouldn't say resilience was in any way 'inate', pre-determined or fingerprinted in my brain. Just the mere fact I survived determined me resilient enough.
* * *
Luv to you Ms. EM & John Cullum and FAM, your sometimes brain freezed g-ma friend! I'm @grammakaye on twitter.