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The Emotional Life of the Brain

Dr. Richard Davidson | 17:55


I'm a psychologist and a neuroscientist by training. When I first began my career, I began with a question. Why is it that some people are more vulnerable to life's slings and arrows than others more resilient? 

And that question is still central to all the work that we do. And we're particularly interested in how we can nudge people along this continuum, to nourish and nurture the qualities that promote human flourishing. In the early part of my career, I focused almost exclusively on the negative side of the equation on adversity on the brain circuits that were important for understanding why some people are more vulnerable to stress, why others may be more likely to develop a depression or anxiety. 

And then something very significant happened in my life in 1992, I first met His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. And this picture of His Holiness was taken in Madison, Wisconsin. And he's visited us several times. And he was the chief inspiration in our turning toward the positive. And in that critical moment, in 1992, he challenged me and he said, Why can't you use the same tools of modern neuroscience to study kindness, and to study compassion, in addition to studying anxiety and fear and depression, and stress? And I didn't have a very good answer for him on that day. 

Other than that, it's hard. But you know, when we first began to study kindness, we first began to study anxiety and depression. That was hard to and we've made some progress in that area. So the work that we and others have been doing is predicated on a critical insight in modern science, the Insight concerning neuroplasticity, our brains are constantly changing, constantly being shaped by the forces around us.

But we have typically very little awareness of what those forces are, our brains are changing, wittingly or unwittingly, most of the time, it's unwittingly, most of the time, we're not aware. And we also have little control over those forces. And the invitation in the work that I'm sharing with you today is that we can actually take more responsibility for our own brains by transforming our minds. But first, let me share with you what some of the consequences of having our brains being shaped unwittingly are. And I'd like to focus on four challenges that have been critical in our society today. 

And these challenges are failures of well being in very important ways. The first is distractibility. Research indicates that if we take people out and about in the world, and we text them, and this has been done in a study that was published a number of years ago, very influential study with several 1000 people, we text them and we ask them three questions. 

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