Some weeks ago an event happened while I was practising biofeedback (on myself) that I found very interesting and revelatory. I got a glimpse of how spontaneous emotions affect the brain, and I wanted to share what I learned with others.
I was working with HEG neurofeedback. This involves having a sensor mounted over the forehead, in this case an infra-red temperature sensor. I discussed this form of biofeedback in a recent blog post. To summarise, the sensor detects changes in heat radiation from the forehead, which are presumed to come from changes in activity in the prefrontal cortex (which is behind the forehead). When I focus intently, with a bright and vivid awareness, the signal increases. When I drift into day-dreaming or dullness, the signal falls. Continue reading
As long as I’ve been a therapist I’ve held that psychotherapy interventions should be rooted in an understanding of the biological systems that underlie mental and emotional well-being.
Professor Richard Davidson’s recent book, ‘The Emotional Life of Your Brain’ (co-authored with Sharon Begley), offers us a glimpse of a future in which mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are defined not in terms of their symptoms but rather which specific brain systems are out of balance or need to be strengthened. Such an understanding would naturally inform our choice of therapies.
Professor Davidson is a leading figure in the field of “affective neuroscience”, or the study of the brain mechanisms behind emotions. The book explores his theory of “emotional style”, a way of describing our emotional propensities based on a set of six dimensions, each representing a relatively independent trait and embodied in distinct brain circuits that can be measured objectively using the tools of neuroscience. Examples are resilience, or how quickly you recover from adverse events, and self-awareness in the sense of how well you perceive bodily sensations that reflect emotions. Continue reading