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New book by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson describes four reasons why long-term meditation can lead to profound improvements in our minds, brains, and bodies

Mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion is every­where these days. From the class­room to the board room, peo­ple are jump­ing on the mind­ful­ness band­wag­on, hop­ing to dis­cov­er for them­selves some of its promised ben­e­fits, like bet­ter focus, more har­mo­nious rela­tion­ships, and less stress.

I too have start­ed a mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion prac­tice and have found it to be help­ful in my every­day life. But, as a sci­ence writer, I still have to won­der: Is all of the hype around mind­ful­ness run­ning ahead of the sci­ence? What does the research real­ly say about mind­ful­ness?  Read the rest of this entry »

Neuroscientists: Develop digital games to improve brain function and well-being

interactivemediaAuthors: Devel­op dig­i­tal games to improve brain func­tion and well-being (UW-Madi­son News):

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists should help to devel­op com­pelling dig­i­tal games that boost brain func­tion and improve well-being, say two pro­fes­sors spe­cial­iz­ing in the field in a com­men­tary arti­cle pub­lished in the sci­ence jour­nal Nature. In the Feb. 28 issue, the two — Daphne Bave­li­er of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester and Richard J. David­son of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son — urge game design­ers and brain sci­en­tists to work togeth­er to design new games that train the brain, pro­duc­ing pos­i­tive effects on behav­ior, such as decreas­ing anx­i­ety, sharp­en­ing atten­tion and improv­ing empa­thy.”

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The Emotional Life of Your Brain: One Brain Does Not Fit All

If you believe most self-help books, pop-psy­chol­o­gy arti­cles, and tele­vi­sion ther­a­pists, then you prob­a­bly assume that how peo­ple respond to sig­nif­i­cant life events is pret­ty pre­dictable.  Most of us, accord­ing to the “experts,” are affect­ed in just about the same way by a giv­en experience—there is a griev­ing process that every­one goes through, there is a sequence of events that hap­pens when we fall in love, there is a stan­dard response to being jilt­ed, and there are fair­ly stan­dard ways almost every nor­mal per­son reacts to the birth of a child, to being unap­pre­ci­at­ed at one’s job, to hav­ing an unbear­able work­load, to the chal­lenges of rais­ing teenagers, and to the inevitable changes that occur with aging.

Read the rest of this entry »

Resources to help students build emotional intelligence

(Editor’s note: Daniel Gole­man is now con­duct­ing a great series of audio inter­views includ­ing one with Richard David­son on Train­ing the Brain: Cul­ti­vat­ing Emo­tion­al Skills. We are hon­ored to bring you this guest post by Daniel Gole­man, thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine.)

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Resources to help stu­dents build emo­tion­al intel­li­gence

By Daniel Gole­man

The scene: a first-grade class­room in a Man­hat­tan school. Not just any class­room this one has lots of Spe­cial Ed stu­dents, who are very hyper­ac­tive. So the room is a whirlpool of fren­zied activ­i­ty. The teacher tells the kids that they’re going to lis­ten to a CD. The kids qui­et down a bit.

Then they get pret­ty still as the CD starts, and a man’s voice asks the kids to lie down on their backs, arms at their sides, and get a “breath­ing bud­dy,” like a stuffed ani­mal, who will sit on their stom­achs and help them be aware of their breath­ing. The voice takes the chil­dren through a series of breath­ing and body aware­ness exer­cis­es, and the kids man­age to calm down and stay focused through the entire six min­utes, which ends with them wig­gling their toes.

You’ve just learned how to make your body feel calm and relaxed,” says the voice. “And you can do this again any time you want.”

The voice on the CD is mine, though I’m read­ing the words of Lin­da Lantieri, who has pio­neered pub­lic school pro­grams in social and emo­tion­al learn­ing that have been adopt­ed world­wide.

Her newest pro­gram adds an impor­tant tool to the emo­tion­al intel­li­gence kit: mind­ful­ness, a moment-by-moment aware­ness of one’s inter­nal state and exter­nal envi­ron­ment. In a Building emotional intelligencenew book, Build­ing Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence, which comes with the CD, Lantieri uses mind­ful­ness train­ing to enhance con­cen­tra­tion and atten­tion among kids, and to help them learn to bet­ter calm them­selves. Build­ing Emo­tion­al Intel­li­gence comes with instruc­tions that explain how teach­ers and par­ents can adapt Latieri’s exer­cis­es to kids at dif­fer­ent age lev­els (five to sev­en, eight to 11, or 12 and up) and pro­vides detailed expla­na­tions of each exer­cise.

Lantieri’s project exem­pli­fies the ways we can build on sci­en­tif­ic insights to help chil­dren mas­ter the skills of emo­tion­al intel­li­gence. As Richard David­son, founder of the Lab­o­ra­to­ry for Affec­tive Neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin, explained to me in Read the rest of this entry »

Meditation on the Brain: a Conversation with Andrew Newberg

Dr_Andrew_NewbergDr. Andrew New­berg is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Radi­ol­o­gy and Psy­chi­a­try and Adjunct Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Reli­gious Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia. He has pub­lished a vari­ety of neu­roimag­ing stud­ies relat­ed to aging and demen­tia. He has also researched the neu­ro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal cor­re­lates of med­i­ta­tion, prayer, and how brain func­tion is asso­ci­at­ed with mys­ti­cal and reli­gious expe­ri­ences. Alvaro Fer­nan­dez inter­views him here as part of our research for the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Opti­mize Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age.

Dr. New­berg, thank you for being with us today. Can you please explain the source of your inter­ests at the inter­sec­tion of brain research and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty?

Since I was a kid, I had a keen inter­est in spir­i­tu­al prac­tice. I always won­dered how spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and reli­gion affect us, and over time I came to appre­ci­ate how sci­ence can help us explore and under­stand the world around us, includ­ing why we humans care about spir­i­tu­al prac­tices. This, of course, led me to be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in brain research.

Dur­ing med­ical school I was par­tic­u­lar­ly attract­ed by the prob­lem of con­scious­ness. I was for­tu­nate to meet researcher Dr. Eugene D’Aquili in the ear­ly 1990s, who had been doing much research on reli­gious prac­tices effect on brain since the 1970s. Through him I came to see that brain imag­ing can pro­vide a fas­ci­nat­ing win­dow into the brain.

Can we define reli­gion and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty -which sound to me as very dif­fer­ent brain process­es-, and why learn­ing about them may be help­ful from a pure­ly sec­u­lar, sci­en­tif­ic point of view?

Good point, def­i­n­i­tions mat­ter, since dif­fer­ent peo­ple may be search­ing for God in dif­fer­ent ways. I view being reli­gious as par­tic­i­pat­ing in orga­nized rit­u­als and shared beliefs, such as going to church. Being spir­i­tu­al, on the oth­er hand, is more of an indi­vid­ual prac­tice, whether we call it med­i­ta­tion, or relax­ation, or prayer, aimed at expand­ing the self, devel­op­ing a sense of one­ness with the uni­verse.

What is hap­pen­ing is that spe­cif­ic prac­tices that have tra­di­tion­al­ly been asso­ci­at­ed with reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al con­texts may also be very use­ful from a main­stream, sec­u­lar, health point of view, beyond those con­texts. Sci­en­tists are research­ing, for exam­ple, what Read the rest of this entry »

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