Ravi Chandra (The Pacific Heart): The most important lesson lies in understanding one’s fear and anger, and the primitive brain. Fear of loss, isolation, and abandonment are [like death threats] to the amygdala, which pushes us into fight-or-flight mode. The most important work involves soothing the amygdala, as well as generating love, compassion, and wisdom from our cerebral cortex.
Jill Greenberg for Newsweek; Photo illustration by NewsweekWhen it comes to your Emotional Style, we know that changes to the neural structure of the brain are possible. We don’t know exactly how much plasticity the brain has, but we do know that some neurally inspired interventions—forms of mental training that target patterns of brain activity—can work. Mental activity, ranging from meditation to cognitive-behavior therapy, can help you develop a broader awareness of social signals, a deeper sensitivity to your own feelings and bodily sensations, a more consistently positive outlook, and a greater capacity for Resilience. Do you feel yourself to be too negative in outlook? Pay heightened attention to the ways in which you can be more generous and upbeat, through processes therapists call “well-being therapy.” Are you very Self-Aware, so much so that your internal chatter threatens to take over your day-to-day life? Practice observing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations nonjudgmentally moment by moment.
This practice, known as “mindfulness meditation,” is one of the most effective tools for changing our Emotional Style. In patients with depression—whom we call “Slow to Recover” on the Resilience scale—every disappointment and setback is shattering. These patients need to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex (especially on the left side), to strengthen the neuronal highways between it and the amygdala, or both. Mindfulness meditation cultivates greater Resilience and faster recovery from setbacks by weakening the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about and even wallowing in a setback. It strengthens connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, promoting an equanimity that will help keep you from spiraling down. As soon as your thoughts begin to leap from one catastrophe to the next in this chain of woe, you have the mental wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind does this, note that it is an interesting mental process, and resist getting drawn into the abyss.
"The Amygdaloids are a New York City band made up of scientists who shed their scientific garb at night and take to the stage with songs about love and life peppered with insights drawn from research about mind and brain and mental disorders."
The third Copernicus Center Lecture, "Our Emotional Brains," was delivered by Professor Joseph LeDoux, a famous neuroscientist. The 2011 Copernicus Center Lecture was part of the 15th Kraków Methodological Conference, "The Emotional Brain: From the Humanities to Neuroscience and Back Again," which was co-organized by the Copenicus Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.