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Mindful : October 2013
30 mindful October 2013 Google changes the brain. Playing computer games changes the brain. Con- versing in a compassionate way changes the brain. If you half expect this ever-lengthen- ing list to eventually include, oh, ma king matzoh-ball soup changes the brain, you are not alone. It is true that lots of solid scientific studies show that the adult brain can change in response to what we do and the lives we lead. But they are in danger of being crowded out, at least in the public’s understanding, by fa r less rigorous claims. (The jury is still out on Google, games, and conversation, but we’re pretty sure soup-making won’t make the short list.) It’s a shame to see something as scien- tifically significant as neuroplasticity— the ability of the adult brain to change its structure or function in an enduring way—overpopularized to the point that it could sta rt losing its real meaning. Rewiring Your Emotions Think you’re destined to respond the same way emotionally to the same old triggers? Not necessarily, say scientists who study neuroplasticity. With a little mind training, you can chart new pathways. By Sharon Begley Sharon Begley is the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, and coauthor with Richard Davidson of The Emotional Life of Your Brain. The promise of tapping neuroplasti- city to relieve suffering is genuine. From physical therapy that changes part of the brain so it can do the job of another part of the brain that has been devastated by a stroke, to mindfulness-based therapy that quiets the circuit responsible for obsessive-compulsive disorder, tech- niques using the principle of neuroplas- ticity are already in use by physicians and therapists. But how far can neuro- plasticity go? Perhaps as far as an emotional reset— harnessing neuroplasticity to change how you respond emotionally to the ups and downs of life. Neurobiologist Rich- ard Davidson of the University of Wis- consin, an expert on the emotional brain, calls it “neura lly inspired behavioral therapy.” He is talking about a kind of therapy that identifies the brain activity underlying an emotiona l trait you wish to cha nge, such as a tendency to dwell in mind/body Illustration by Malin Rosenqvist