In this session we look at emotions as evolved behavioral responses, how well-being can be cultivated, and how our emotions can influence health. We further investigate the nature of compassion and its compatibility with evolutionary theory.
Session led by: Richie Davidson, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison;
Founder and Chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds
Paul Ekman, Ph.D.
Psychologist, Paul Ekman Group, LLC
Esther Sternberg, MD
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2006. His research focuses on correlating emotional states with the brain activity underlying them. Davidson has reached the conclusion that our brain circuitry isn't set in stone: though our emotions are evolved responses, they are remarkably plastic and can be shaped over time. As he says, "I think that what modern neuroscience is teaching us is that, in fact, there is a lot of plasticity, that change is indeed possible, and the evidence is more and more strongly in favor of the importance of environmental influences in shaping brain function and structure and even shaping the expression of our genes." At the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, Davidson and other researchers investigate qualities of mind such as compassion and mindfulness in order to understand how healthy minds might be cultivated. He is perhaps most famous for his investigations into the neurological effects of meditation, showing how this practice can functionally rewire the brain. In 2012, he spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.
Paul Ekman is a pioneering psychologist in the study of emotions and facial expressions, and was named one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century by the American Psychological Association. Ekman is most famous for his research establishing that nonverbal communication of emotions is not a cultural phenomenon but a universal one. Through his study of facial expressions, Ekman has substantiated Darwin's theory that human emotions are an evolved, biological response shared throughout cultures worldwide. On their importance in our lives, Ekman states, "Emotions can override…the more powerful fundamental motives that drive our lives: hunger, sex, and the will to survive." Ekman has also contributed to the study of microexpressions, involuntary facial expressions that occur when someone is attempting to conceal their true feelings. Microexpressions offer further evidence that emotional responses are indeed hardwired and universal. His system of reading these emotions gave rise to the crime drama television series Lie to Me, starring a character based on Ekman. In 2012, he spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.
Internationally recognized for her discoveries of the science of the mind-body interaction in illness and healing, Dr. Esther M. Sternberg is a major force in collaborative initiatives on mind-body-stress-wellness and environment inter-relationships. Dr. Sternberg's many honors include recognition by the National Library of Medicine as one of 300 women physicians who have changed the face of medicine, the Anita Roberts National Institutes of Health Distinguished Woman Scientist Lectureship, and an honorary doctorate in medicine from Trinity College, Dublin. Currently Research Director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona at Tucson, Dr. Sternberg was previously Section Chief of Neuroendocrine Immunology and Behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health; Director of the Integrative Neural Immune Program, NIMH/NIH; and Co-Chair of the NIH Intramural Program on Research on Women's Health. She has been featured on numerous radio and television programs, including PBS's The New Medicine and Life Part II, NPR's Speaking of Faith and, in 2009, with Emmy Award winning Resolution Pictures, created and hosted a PBS special based on her books: The Science of Healing. Well known for her ability to translate complex scientific subjects for lay audiences, Sternberg has testified before Congress, advised the World Health Organization, and is a regular contributor to Science Magazine's "Books et al." column, and a regular columnist for Arthritis Today. A dynamic speaker, recognized by her peers as a spokesperson for the field, she translates complex scientific subjects in a highly accessible manner, with a combination of academic credibility, passion for science and compassion as a physician. Dr. Sternberg lectures nationally and internationally to both lay and scientific audiences and is frequently interviewed on radio, television and film and in print media on subjects including the mind-body connection, 'stress and illness', spirituality, love, and health, and place and well-being.