Brain Changer

Richard Davidson’s new book reveals how we can alter the way we feel by training our brains to think differently

UW professor Richard J. Davidson’s new book with co-author Sharon Begley, The Emotional Life of Your Brain (Hudson Street Press, $25.95), is nothing if not mind-bending.

This consummate scientist writes an instructional and informative book based on the science—tons of science—of the brain that reads like a mystery novel/how-to manual about changing one’s emotional reactions to our world. It would make a great movie.

The author, a prodigy who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard at age twenty-four, has had a lifelong hunger to not only understand how the human brain functions, but moreover how it is, in part, responsible for human emotions.

With the help of the fairly recent creation of sophisticated electronic equipment like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—the definite hero of this saga—Davidson has identified a continuum of six different dimensions of human emotion, assigning their origins to specific areas of circuitry in our brains. He provides assessment tools to examine our own internal emotional proclivities, and instructions on how to physically change our feelings.

The heroine of the book is meditation, with support from the likes of Ram Dass and the Dalai Lama himself. The cast of characters number in the thousands, including Tibetan monks, infants, toddlers, teens, graduate students and others who agreed to participate in Davidson’s research studies. His no-stone-left-unturned approach has moved neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change its structure and patterns of activity—into the forefront of today’s psychology.

The book is written for lay people, and is peppered with Davidson’s humor and compassion. It’s a can’t-put-down read, and you’re going to like the ending. 

Jenifer Winiger is publisher of Madison Magazine.

EXCLUSIVE LIVE CHAT: Join Richard Davidson and editor Brennan Nardi in a lively conversation about your brain, Monday, March 26,12–1 p.m. at madisonmagazine.com.
NOTE: The exclusive chat is now claosed.

AUTHOR EVENT: Don't miss Richard Davidson's first public discussion of his new book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain, in an Academy Evening talk on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. Held by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, the event takes place 7–8:30 p.m. at the Union South, 1308 W. Dayton St. For more information, visit wisconsinacademy.org.

READ MORE: Check out our November 2007 cover story on Richard Davidson, whom we named our Person of the Year.

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