Can I improve my personality through meditation?

Personality development: this is how I change my emotional profile

The psychologist and brain researcher Richard J. Davidson (born 1951) is a pioneer of mind-body medicine. He is a director of research at the Waisman Center for Neuroimaging and founded the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is best known for his work with Tibetan monks. In addition to the concept of emotion styles, he described, among other things, the course of emotional reactions ("affective chronometry") as a result of the properties of neural circuits - the key to understanding strong fears. In 2006, Time Magazine ranked Davidson among the 100 most influential people in the world.

Ā»Spektrum.deĀ«: Professor Davidson, what determines our emotional profile? Our genes or our experiences?

This article is contained in Spectrum Psychology, 5/2020 (September / October)

Richard Davidson: Both! Our emotional style is the way we keep reacting to events that are emotionally meaningful to us. As with all complex behaviors, this is a product of genes and the environment. The proportion of hereditary factors explains why certain elementary forms of emotional style can be observed at an early stage. For example, with resilience, i.e. the ease with which we cope with a load. Newborns do not all react in the same way when they are hungry or have a stomach ache. Some whine for a long time, while others calm down quickly. This early forerunner of resilience later evolves into a more mature form. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize one thing: the external influences, especially the early experiences, are particularly significant. And being genetically predisposed doesn't mean that change is impossible. On the contrary: each of the six dimensions of our emotional profile can be changed through training.

What's the point of changing your emotional style?

You can increase your well-being. But it's not about being happy all the time: you can be very satisfied and yet sometimes sad. Sometimes it is even appropriate, for example when we mourn a deceased person. But we all know emotional reactions from ourselves that we are not happy with and that we would like to change. To avoid misunderstandings: I don't mean that there is an optimal emotional style. On average, some characteristics make life easier for us, such as resilience or a positive emotional attitude. However, I know a lot of creative and fascinating people who are very sensitive and who stand by it. The most important thing is to take stock honestly: Do I suffer from my peculiarities? Are they affecting my private or professional life? If so, it can help to change. I'm sure that working on your own emotional style will help you feel better overall and more in tune with who you want to be. This is all the more important as there is an empirically proven connection between our psychological well-being and our physical health. But the same applies here: It is difficult to derive an optimal style from this. You'd think that having a good social sense would be useful: it helps build relationships, and numerous studies have shown that we release stress hormones when we're alone a lot. However, these are also only averages, and no study has looked at people who feel very comfortable on their own. Alone is unlikely to have any health disadvantages for them. It all depends on how we ourselves feel about it.

Is there any scientific evidence that proves that you can really change?

The best evidence that we can change our emotional style comes from studies of meditation practices. One of the characteristics is, for example, attention, the ability to concentrate. As more than 100 solid research shows, we can improve at it, so learn to be less easily distracted. And according to numerous other works, concentration problems reduce well-being. Apparently, it is therefore quite possible to train the mind and thus change the emotional style and promote well-being. The studies also show that with meditation and other techniques one can develop on the other dimensions as well. The best results are achieved for resilience and positive emotions.