The Six Emotional Styles and Meditation
One incredibly beautiful aspect of human society is the vast differences amongst people. Individuals have varying personalities, interests, beliefs, and emotional styles. This complexity, though challenging at times, generates wonderous excitement and joy throughout life. There are varying emotional styles across individuals, as highlighted through the research and writings of Dr. Richard J. Davidson. His research outlines what these six emotional styles are, and how they might affect personal well-being. Additionally, his work has also involved researching meditation for its observed ability in changing how the brain responds emotionally through neural plasticity. Meditation may be a way of changing our personal emotional habits for the better. In this article, we will explore what these six emotional styles are, some major circuits that seem to be manipulatable, and how meditation relates to all this. Hopefully, a clearer picture of how one can pursue greater personal development will be provided.
Firstly, the six emotional styles must be discussed. The six emotional styles that are based upon neuroscientific studies are (Richards et al., 2019): outlook, resilience, social intuition, self-awareness, sensitivity to context, and attention. Outlook is described as one’s perception on life and skill in showing positive emotions. Resilience is represented by how quickly someone recovers from adversity. Social intuition is one’s ability to decode nonverbal cues from others. Self-awareness, on the other hand, is one’s ability to understand personal bodily cues. Sensitivity to context represents the extent at which someone takes into account the context of their social environment when eliciting their emotional response. Lastly, attention is how focused or scatter minded a person is. After reading these six styles, one can likely understand where they roughly stand on each of those characterizations. Each can have a profound impact on social skills, health, and personal well-being. Now, to what extent can our emotional styles be changed to increase our well-being?
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The research of Dr. Davidson outlines four major brain circuits that are both plastic and can have a profound impact on improving our personal well-being (The 4 Brain Circuits Governing Maximum Well-Being & How To Tune Them Like An Instrument, n.d.). The first is the resilience circuit, which is obviously correlated to the emotional style. Training this circuit changes the speed at which one can recover from adversity. Research shows that plasticity within the brain begins after 6,000-7,000 hours of practice. The second circuit is the positive outlook circuit, which again, highly correlates to the outlook emotional style. This is characterized by brain areas that both recognize the positive aspects of things as well as savoring positive experiences. Thirdly, there is the attention circuit which involves the capacity at which the mind stays focused or wanders. A wandering mind that is full of ruminations can be a major predictor of depression (Watkins, 2008). Therefore, a mind that can focus on the present moment can have drastic effects on emotional well-being. The last circuit, which differs most from the emotional styles, is the generosity circuit. This circuit reveals how altruistic behavior can lead to incredible changes within the brain. It is perhaps the most plastic of the four circuits.
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The real question then becomes: how do we change these circuits and therefore emotional styles? Meditation is one possible method, but there are varying forms of meditation that improve different styles and circuits. For example, loving-kindness meditation has been shown to improve positive emotions (Zeng et al., 2015) and likely alters the outlook circuit of the brain. The research of Dr. Davidson also includes work that classifies three different types of meditation (Dahl et al., 2015), loving-kindness meditation would likely fall into the constructive family. Another family of meditation is the attentional family (Dahl et al., 2015), which would likely include mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation involves practicing a non-judgmental meta-awareness of one’s thoughts, present-centred awareness, and creating a shift in perspective of one’s thoughts characterized by not experiencing them as real objects (Dahl et al., 2015). This practice, due to its constant training on focus, alters the attention circuit of the brain by improving attention. Additionally, the practiced shifting of perspective on one’s thoughts will have an effect on the resilience circuit in the brain. Lastly, due to the nature of focusing one’s attention on the present moment and the body, self-awareness is also trained during mindfulness meditation. Evidently, much of the circuits described by Dr. Davidson can be trained and changed through the practice of various forms of meditation.
The two styles involving social behaviour: social intuition and sensitivity to context are seemingly not included into the schemas of the four neural circuits. So, can these be changed as well through meditation? A systematic review of non-specific types of meditation showed how meditation improves empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors (Luberto et al., 2018). One of the possible mechanisms that the authors put forth in their papers of how this is achieved, is how meditation likely generates increased mindfulness and a greater sense of social connectedness. Therefore, meditation likely grants a heightened awareness to social cues and context, and therefore can potentially improve both of these emotional styles.
Improving the self takes a lot of work and dedication. However, it is important to remember that we are not static beings. We are dynamic and highly adaptive people who can transform ourselves given time, patience, and effort. If one truly wishes to improve themselves in any of these six emotional styles, one should consider meditation.
May all beings be happy and may all beings be at ease.
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Dahl, C. J., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Reconstructing and deconstructing the self: Cognitive mechanisms in meditation practice. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(9), 515–523. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.001
Luberto, C. M., Shinday, N., Song, R., Philpotts, L. L., Park, E. R., Fricchione, G. L., & Yeh, G. Y. (2018). A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors. Mindfulness, 9(3), 708–724. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0841-8
Richards et al. (2019). Emotional Style Questionnaire: A Multidimensional Measure of Healthy Emotionality Pelin. Psychological Assessment, 1234–1246. https://doi.org/10.1037/pas0000745.Emotional
The 4 Brain Circuits Governing Maximum Well-Being & How To Tune Them Like An Instrument. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2021, from https://www.feelguide.com/2020/11/09/the-4-brain-circuits-governing-maximum-well-being-how-to-tune-them-like-an-instrument/
Watkins, E. R. (2008). Constructive and unconstructive repetitive thought. Psychological Bulletin, 134(2), 163–206. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.134.2.163
Zeng, X., Chiu, C. P. K., Wang, R., Oei, T. P. S., & Leung, F. Y. K. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: A meta-analytic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(NOV), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01693