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Richard Davidson A Neuroscientist

Biological Perspective: A gist

The human brain is the most complex of all other biological organs. It not only gives rise to the consciousness but also helps in the expression of our behavioral responses. The structure of the brain and the other higher cognitive functions are formed through evolution. In the modern world, attempts are being actively made to understand the role of various parts of the brain in determining the behavior of the individuals. Intensive research in this field is evident today.

One of the major contributions of the neuroscience is that it came up with the idea that biology is not the ultimate reality rather experiences of an individual also shape the mind, brain, and the body of an individual. Neuroscience has also provided new insights into cognitive development along with different mechanisms through which the observations and the findings of developmental psychologists can be explained. With the biological explanation of the behavior, it became easier for the individuals to rely on the behavioral observations. Neuroscience also helps us to detect cognitive problems before they are behaviorally observable which increases the possibilities for early intervention.

Konrad Lorenz, Richard Davidson is some of the important people who have done major contributions to our understanding of behavior from a biological perspective.

Here is a detailed note on the contributions made by Richard Davidson.

AN INTRODUCTION TO RICHARD DAVIDSON

Richard J Davidson is a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also a neuroscientist. He is also the founder as well as the chairman of the centre for healthy minds. He was born in Brooklyn and studied at Harvard University and got his PhD degree in Personality, Psychopathology, and Psychophysiology there in 1976. In Harvard University, Davidson was mentored by David McClelland. He was also influenced by the works of Norman Geschwind and Walle J H Nauta. Richards was even the summer research assistant at the sleep laboratory in a nearby medical centre for research related to sleep. His work was to clean the electrodes that were used on the clients for research findings in. In 1976 he took up a job of teaching at the state university of New York from where he kept on progressing and changed many posts. He is currently working as a Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience as well as Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior. He founded the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds where he serves as its chairman. He was even termed as the most influential people in the world in 2006 by the time magazine.

HIS MAIN AREA OF RESEARCH

His major groundbreaking research is in the area of studying emotions and the brain The major broad area of his research is done on the people suffering from emotional disorders such as mood disorders like mania, depression, autism etc. and on major meditation practitioners who have experience of thousands of hours of meditation. Richard J Davidson belongs to the cognitive school of thought of psychology where he studied about various emotions with reference to the brain using various techniques such as MRI, positron emission tomography, electroencephalography and modern genetic and epigenetic methods to make inferences about patterns of regional brain function. Further variations of these methods were also used by him in his research work.

The main focus of the research of Davidson is in cortical and sub cortical phases of emotions and mood disorders including anxiety and depression. He focused on the interaction between the prefrontal cortex and amygdala in the regulation of emotions as seen in both normal individuals and individuals with affective disorders. In his research based on emotions, he found that an individual can learn skills like happiness and compassion as one learns other skills like playing a game etc. according to him we can develop these skills through mental training and enhance them through practice and time. He even argued that clinical depression can be diagnosed through different emotional styles. He collaborated with rhesus monkeys as models of human neurophysiology and emotional response since 1992.

His broad area of research is to promote human flourishing including meditation and other related concepts. He conducted his research on individuals from all life spans including childhood adulthood and old age. He has been a good friend of the 14th Dalai Lama. Some of his research is on the brain as it relates to meditation. He himself practiced meditation due to which he has continuous interaction with the Dalai Lama. Throughout his lifetime, Davidson has published 375 articles and published and reviewed 80 articles and chapters. Along with these he even edited 14 books.

HIS RESEARCH ARTICLES

His main research interest can be evident through the various research findings discussed below:

THE FUNCTIONAL NEUROANATOMY OF EMOTION AND AFFECTIVE STYLE

In this article Richard Davidson stated that lesion, PET and fMRI studies are important to make inferences about the circuits underlying positive and negative emotions in the brain of the individuals. He further added that right prefrontal cortex implements components of aversive emotional responding.

He concluded that neuroimaging technologies will help in the understanding of the various constituents of emotions and also for practical advances in the treatment of affective dysfunction.

EMOTION PLASTICITY CONTEXT AND REGULATION: PERSPECTIVES FROM AFFECTIVE NEUROSCIENCE

In this article Davidson associated dorsolateral and ventromedial sectors of the prefrontal cortex with different aspects of emotions. Davidson also linked the asymmetries in the prefrontal cortex with approach and withdrawal systems. He further added that the left sectors of the prefrontal cortex are associated with approach system and right sectors of the prefrontal cortex are associated with the negative effects and withdrawal systems. Patterns of neural activity even help to understand the effect of emotions on physical health and diseases.

MODULATION OF AMYGDALA ACTIVITY BY THE CONSCIOUS REGULATION OF NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

In the research conducted by Richard on the role of the amygdala in the expression of negative emotions, he found that there was a greater level of bold signals in the amygdala during the presentation of negative pictures to the subject as compared to the neutral pictures. Greater activation of the amygdala was seen when the subject was trying to maintain emotional response to negative pictures as compared to when he had simply viewed the pictures without regulating his/her emotions. These findings were positively correlated with their trait levels. Moreover, these findings can also be attributes to the attentional effects resulting from attention differences between maintaining and passive conditions

DAVIDSON: TOWARDS BIOLOGY OF PERSONALITY AND EMOTIONS

Based on his research findings Davidson argued that individual differences in affective style are due to social influences on brain structure and activation patterns. Although heritable influences occur even then environmental influences can be extremely powerful and produce lasting changes in the brain. These influences help in the transformation of dysfunctional affective styles into more adaptive affective styles.

ALTERATIONS IN BRAIN AND IMMUNE FUNCTION PRODUCED BY MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

In his research, Davidson found that meditation can produce an increase in the activation of left side anterior association which leads to the reduction in the levels of anxiety and negative affect along with the increase in the positive effect. Through this article, it was reported for the first time that meditation has its influence over the immune system also and that the immune system of an individual becomes strong trough daily practice of meditation.

HIS INFLUENCE OVER OTHER SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT AND RELEVANCE OF HIS WORK IN TODAYS WORLD

Richard J Davidson belonged to the cognitive school of thought as in almost all of his researches he has focused on the effects of various emotions on different parts of the brain and even how meditation and mindfulness techniques have their effects on the various processes of the brain. He himself is the practitioner of meditation that is why he is inclined towards this area of research. His groundbreaking research findings have influenced many psychologists of the modern era and had its impact on various schools of thought of psychology. He was the first individual to develop a model to teach mindfulness meditation so that it is accepted in the medical setting. He even used cognitive behavioral approach for therapeutic purposes. He even included the Buddhist perspective for personal understanding into theories of conditioning and cognitive science. Through his researches only we came to know about the underlying factors of the emotions and different areas of the brain associated with it. Earlier the emphasis was only placed on the limbic system and the brainstem but after his research findings, individuals came to know about the role of prefrontal cortex and amygdala in the regulation and expression of emotions. Through his intensive research findings, he proposed six emotional styles. His research got immense popularity and was published in various international journals. He is even the author of many books and has even edited many books. His research has revolutionized the cognitive behavioral approach of understanding behavior as earlier there no mention of meditation and mindfulness in this thought but his research findings were compelling and had positive effects on the individuals. Even his research findings had their influence on other schools of thought of psychology as in the cognitive school of thought his research related to emotions and brain brought in the idea of the role of different parts of the brain which affect the emotions of an individual which were not known earlier. In the behavioral school of thought, he contributed towards the effect of the meditation and other mindfulness related practices that affect our behavior. These practices even paved their way into the medical field through his contribution. He earned many awards for his work and is associated with many boards internationally.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

Although Richard has done various researches which were credited by many associations internationally and had their influence on the psychological thought. But after studying his research articles and learning about his work I came to this opinion that he has overemphasized on the role of meditation and mindfulness practices and their effect on the individuals. Although it cannot be declined that they are good stress relieving techniques but as each individual is different so the effects of these techniques cannot be generalized to a large extent. They may have a huge impact on some people but they might even appear to be ineffective to another lot of people. Even his relationship with Dalai Lama has also been questioned. Many of the individuals are of the view that he is personally using Dalai Lama for his research findings and apart from that he has no other connection with him. But on a large account, his criticism is less as much of his research has gained international recognition and is even valid. His research findings within the domain of emotions and the related brain parts are highly relevant and are still accepted. Due to his work on meditation, he opened his own centre named as a centre for investigating healthy minds which deals with the conductance of various researches to bring out new insights and tools for improving the well-being of the individuals. One of the critique focuses on cognitive therapy that focuses on altering negative self-concepts.

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