Posts Tagged ‘Emotional Life of Your Brain’

Attentional Style

April 25, 2012

Attentional Style is the last of Davidson’s Six Dimensions of Emotional Style1 to be discussed. But it is certainly not the least important dimension. It is the most important dimension as regular readers of this blog should have anticipated. With respect to a healthy memory, it is the most important dimensions as memory failures are typically due to a failure to pay attention. It is also a key building block for other dimensions as it is difficult to be self-aware or to be tuned in to social cues or sensitive to social context if one is not paying attention.

Davidson notes that there are two types of attention. One is the ability to selectively attend to stimuli that are of interest and to tune out extraneous stimulus. The other type of attention is nonjudgmental awareness. These two types of attention complement each other. Without the ability to selectively attend, the amount of stimulation and information is overwhelming. However, excessive selective attention can cause you to miss important cues or information.

The prefrontal cortex is involved in selective attention. Davidson describes an experiment in which the participants were to push a button when a sound of a certain pitch (high or low) was presented to a particular ear (left or right). EEGs were taken while the participants performed this task. Analyses of the recorded brain waves indicated that participants who performed this task better (where better able to selectively attend) had electrical signals from the prefrontal cortext that exhibited “Phase locking.” That is, the signals from the prefrontal lobes became synchronized precisely with the arrival of the tones.

Specific patterns of brain activation were also found during a study of open, nonjudgmental awareness that Davidson conducted. In this study strings of digits and letter were presented and the task was to to respond whenever a digit occurred. There is a phenomenon termed the attentional blink (or psychological refractory period) in which the response to the second occurrence of a digit is either missed or delayed. EEG recordings were taken of the participants while they performed this task. The EEG data recorded an event related potential known as the P300. It refers to a positive electrical response that occurs about 300 milliseconds after the presentation of a stimulus. Too strong a P300 response indicated that too much attention was expended on the first occurrence of the target stimulus, so that second presentation was missed. Too weak a P300 response typically indicated that both target stimuli were missed. So balanced, nonjudgmental awareness is characterized by a “Goldilocks” P300, not too much and not too little, but just right.

Here is where the emotional brain and the rational, thinking overlap. Clearly the emotional brain affects rational thinking, and is important to a healthy memory.

1Davidson, R.J., & Begley, S. (2012). The Emotional Life of Your Brain. New York: Hudson Street Press.

The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style

April 4, 2012

These six dimensions are taken from The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley.

Resilience style. When you’re knocked down, do you bounce back quickly and get back into the ring of life, or do you fall into a puddle of depression and resignation? Do you respond to setbacks with determination and energy, or do you give up? If you have an argument with your significant other, is the remainder of your day ruined, or do you recover quickly and put it behind you? These are examples of the two poles of the resilience dimension A person can be at either pole of the dimension or somewhere in between.

Outlook style. Do you tend towards optimism or pessimism? Even when things don’t go your way, do you maintain a high level of energy and engagement? Or are you cynical and pessimistic struggling to see anything positive? Again, these statements are intended to represent to poles of the Outlook dimension. You can fall at either extreme or anywhere in between.

Self Awareness style. Are you aware of the messages your body sends you? Are you aware of your own thoughts and feelings? Is your inner self opaque to your conscious mind such that you act or react without knowing why you do what you do? Do people who know you ask you why you never engage in introspection and wonder why you seem oblivious to your being anxious, jealous, impatient or threatened? Again, these statements are meant to represent the poles of the Self Awareness dimension. You can be at either extreme or fall anywhere in between.

Social Intuition style. Can you determine whether people want to talk or be alone, or whether they are extremely stressed or feeling mellow? Or are you puzzled by or blind to the outward indications of people’s physical or emotional states? So at one end of the dimension are the socially intuitive types and at the other end are those who are puzzled. Again, you can fall at either end or anywhere in between.

Sensitivity to Context style. Are you able to pick up the roles of social interaction so that you do not embarrass yourself, or are you baffled when people tell you that your behavior is inappropriate? If you are at one end of the Sensitivity to Context dimension you are tuned in. If you are at the other end you are tuned out. Of course, you can fall anywhere between these two poles, The Sensitivity to Context dimension might seem to be be very similar to the Social Intuition dimension, but there are reasons for distinguishing between them. Different brain structures are involved, and there are other reasons for this distinction that will become apparent in subsequent posts.

Attention style. Are you able to tune our distracting information and focus on the important information to which you are trying to attend? It is this dimension that is most relevant to a healthy memory. If you have read the Healthymemory Blog extensively, you should be well aware of the importance of attention to memory. Most memory failures are a failure to attend. So difficulties in your attention style will affect the importance of your memory.

Subsequent posts will relate these dimensions to personality theory and to pathological conditions. Each dimension will be considered in more detail and discuss the underlying brain structures that are involved. And methods for altering you emotional style will be discussed. However, at this point you should realize that there is not one ideal emotional style. Emotional styles can and should vary among individuals. It is when your emotional style is hindering your happiness and the health of your memory that they need to be addressed.