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Mindful : June 2018
BARRY BOYCE: Many mindfulness teachers like to use a model of the brain that pits the so-called emo- tional center deep inside the brain, the amgydala, against the reason- ing center of the brain up front, the prefrontal cortex, which carries out our “executive function.” In the battle between these two, mindfulness is on the side of the executive function, coming in to help when the amygdala is out of control. How do you feel about this characterization? Amishi Jha: I understand the good intentions of smart and kind-hearted people when they use overly simple models of the brain in an attempt to make brain functions broadly acces- sible, even to small children. They’re trying to help people understand something about problems they’re encountering with their emotions or their attention. I’m trying to do the same thing when I work with first responders or soldiers. No one wants to make costly mistakes. However, we can do better than using a misleading model that implies that a part of the brain, the amygdala, misbehaves or “goes bad,” causing us to freak out, and that to control this reactivity—fear, anxiety, inappropriate behavior—we need to use the “good” part of the brain up front that comes in and tamps down the bad guy. Cliff Saron: The “good brain, bad brain” idea gets things off on the wrong foot completely. You can err on the side of complexity or simplicity. If you’re trying to simplify things, you want to do it in such a way that you’re still on the side of accuracy. Amishi is exemplary at getting to the essence while still being truthful, using a model that scales up to something that represents a better understand- ing. Locating all emotion in the amgydala belies what we know about the powerful interconnectedness of the brain. Pictures of the anatomical connections of the amygdala to other parts of the brain, even from 25 years ago, show an incredibly dense level of interconnectivity with almost all 46 mindful June 2018 science