Emotional Styles of the Brain – Part 3

In the last two weeks, we have defined the first two emotional styles of the brain. The first being resilience to adversity. The adversity can be a wide range of so-called setbacks – from the most trivial things such as someone cutting you off in traffic to the more significant setbacks such as the passing of a loved one. The second being outlook – meaning whether you have a positive or negative view on life. 

Let’s look closely at the second style, outlook, which can be broken down to be defined as either positive outlook or negative outlook. The left prefrontal cortex in a resilient person can be 30 times that of someone who is not as resilient – this means that there is a a pretty big difference in brain activity within people who are clinically depressed and those who are not clinically depressed. For people who suffer from depression, activity in the right prefrontal is much higher. For people who are healthier and have an overall positive outlook on life, activity is the left prefrontal is greater. In other words, left side activity equals positive and right side equals negative.

The thing to remember about these specific findings is that everyone has ups and downs in their lives, so the left and/or right asymmetry can change. This relates back to the first style – adversity – under certain difficult periods of people’s lives, they may behave and/or react differently during these times. This is simply just part of the ebb and flow of life as a human.

Dr. Richard Davidson has been doing research on the emotional styles of the brain for over twenty years. Dr. Davidson’s research has been on all kinds of walks of life, including everyday hard-working Americans, undergraduate volunteers, children and infants, and also a Tibetan monk community. These monks lent their time and brains to science by having Dr. Davidson run MRI’s and EEG’s on them. In his findings, Dr. Davidson has found that these monk’s left prefrontals were off the chart compared to his other findings making this evidence for the stark difference in the brain activity that underlie emotional and personality differences. The monks are constantly smiling, people of good will and constantly help one another. And their brains can prove it.

Next week, we will continue the emotional styles of the brain, digging more into how brain patterns persist or change.

Emotional Styles of the Brain

The brain is the source of all our emotions and behavior. Although humans have known for many years that all our behavior, feelings, and thoughts come from the brain, there has not been much progress in learning exactly how it works until recently. Researchers have been looking at many aspects of our emotional life and tracing them to specific patterns in particular regions of the brain. In this research, they have found that one size does not fit all. In other words, you have to take into account the individuality of the patient which can often be determined by DNA and also previous circumstances that may have happened during the patient’s lifetime.

The first emotional style is resilience to adversity. The adversity can be a wide range of so-called setbacks – from the most trivial things such as someone cutting you off in traffic (but if this happens at the beginning of your day, it could trigger negative emotions starting off your day) to the more significant setbacks such as the passing of a loved one. Under certain difficult periods of people’s lives, they may behave and/or react differently during these times.

When you have a setback, and we all do at some point, how do you bounce back from it? Is it pretty quickly or do you wallow in anger, unhappiness or jealousy, or any other negative emotion? Everyone will vary in how well and how quickly they are able to recover from such adversity, and also depending on how significant the setback may be. On one hand, people are resilient – look at how we as humans have survived on this planet for thousands of years. Yet with the more significant setbacks, your resilience could be thwarted (which is completely acceptable), so the resilience relies on the circumstance. Researchers are now seeing particular patterns of brain activity in particular regions that actually show the ability to quickly and easily bounce back or the difficulty to bounce back.

The second emotional style is outlook – meaning whether you have a positive or negative view on life. Do you tend to think that things will work out for the better regardless of the situation? Or are you more of an Eeyore with a gloomy cloud over your head with no hope for better days? There are also particular brain patterns and brain activity at play here that underline whether you have a positive or negative outlook in life.

This is part one of a series of blogs on the emotional styles of the brain, which will begin to cover your brain and your relationships in next week’s post.

Negativity and Relationships The None-Too-Subtle and Destructive Force of a Negative Attitude

negative-relationships

Negativity is like cancer. Even if you do not notice the negativity from the start, it eats away at you, inside, until it affects every aspect of your life. Once this happens, it is difficult to find peace, contentment, or happiness, or even to see the bright side of a gloomy situation. Negativity not only ruins your mood and outlook, it adds undue stress that can lead to an untimely demise, and negativity has a lasting effect on your relationship as well. Negative and relationships is not a good mix. A negative attitude influences your life, but it also affects those around you. Your bad attitude can influence anyone you encounter, potentially ruining his or her attitude or whole day. And if your negative mood can ruin the mood of someone you are not close to, imagine what it can do to the people you are close to – especially your spouse or partner.

Negativity and Brain Science

Negativity destroys your own mind – thoughts, moods, attitudes, etc. – and it can be difficult to recover from long-term negativity. This pattern in thinking becomes a habit, and over time, it is nearly impossible to remember how to think optimistically or to change the pattern from negative to positive. That’s not to say it cannot be done; many people have successfully defeated this monster, but it takes time and effort to change your way of thinking. Most people, however, are so caught up in their pessimism, brought on by circumstances and poor coping skills, that they fail to consider or realize the influence their sharing of these thoughts has on others.

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