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Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlookby Elaine Fox
Synopses & Reviews
There are two basic types of personalities: sunny” or rainy,” those that see the glass as half-full or those that see it as half-empty. Scientists have long debated how we form these personalities, and whether we can alter them. In Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, leading experimental neuroscientist Elaine Fox shows that pessimism and optimism are indeed hard-wired into the human brain—but this doesnt mean they are unalterable. Groundbreaking research has revealed an incredibly uplifting truth: we possess a range of tools for reshaping our brains, and we can use this power to profoundly improve our happiness and wellbeing.
Optimism and pessimism, Fox shows, can be boiled down to a single question: whether were more inclined to seek pleasure or avoid danger. People whose primary impulse is toward the former are more likely to see the opportunities in life and downplay the risks; people who are more concerned with avoiding danger, on the other hand, tend to look at opportunities and see only the worst possible outcome. To a certain extent, our genetics determine which camp we fall into—but Fox shows that this genetic predisposition actually hinges upon a complex mix of environmental and neurological factors. By following the inclinations hard-wired into our brains, we sensitize and strengthen key brain circuits, eventually forming powerful cognitive biases that reinforce our inborn impulses. And when our fear brain” or our pleasure brain” holds too much sway, the results can be disastrous, as people suffering from addiction, depression, and anxiety can readily attest. But as Fox shows in Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, new scientific advances are giving us reason to hope. Breakthroughs in neuroscience are making it clear that our brains are more malleable than we ever imagined, and that by subtly changing the way we respond to sensory stimuli, we can actually rewire the connections between the different parts of our brains, making a rainy brain sunnier. Fox shows how a range of treatments—from simple visual conditioning to mindfulness meditation to more traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy—can serve to remap our neurological pathways, with lasting results. The most important implication of these findings, as Fox explains, is that a person whose pessimism is so pronounced that it results in depression or anxiety can retrain” her brain, thereby changing her overall outlook and allowing herself to flourish in a way she may never have thought possible.
With keen insights into the various genetic, experiential, and neurological factors that combine to make us who we are, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain revolutionizes our basic concept of individuality, proving that we can control our own personalities, and that our lives are only as sunny or as rainy as we allow them to be.
"Drawing on a host of studies in neurobiology and genetics, as well as evolutionary and behavioral psychology, Fox explores the struggle between the parts of the brain associated with fear and pessimism (the amygdala) and those associated with pleasure and optimism. Head of the Centre for Brain Science at the University of Essex, England, Fox introduces readers to many new concepts from experimental psychology and recent research on neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. To demonstrate how malleable the mind actually is, she describes an experiment where mice placed in a stimulating environment 'grew about three times more cells in their hippocampus' than mice in an ordinary environment. Another experiment revealed that stimulating the prefrontal cortex (the brain's control center) can restrain the amygdala's transmission of fear and anxiety. However, only in a concluding chapter does Fox deal, all too cursorily, with the subject of her subtitle, noting how techniques like mindfulness training can produce positive changes in brain activity and also help strengthen the body's immune system. Fox uses a few anecdotes to good effect, andÂ her book, while occasionally dry, is a welcome, if intellectually demanding, introduction to a key area of brain research. 16 b&w illus. Agent: Patrick Walsh, Conville & Walsh. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A leading experimental neuroscientist shows how we can brighten our outlooks on life by rewiring our brains.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Glass half-full or half-empty? Do you look on the bright side or turn towards the dark? These are easy questions for most of us to answer, because our personality types are hard-wired into our brains. As pioneering psychologist and neuroscientist Elaine Fox has discovered, our outlook on life reflects our primal inclination to seek pleasure or avoid danger—inclinations that, in many people, are healthily balanced. But when our “fear brain” or “pleasure brain” is too strong, the results can be disastrous, as those of us suffering from debilitating shyness, addiction, depression, or anxiety know all too well.
Luckily, anyone suffering from these afflictions has reason to hope. Stunning breakthroughs in neuroscience show that our brains are more malleable than we ever imagined. In Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, Fox describes a range of techniques—from traditional cognitive behavioral therapy to innovative cognitive-retraining exercises—that can actually alter our brains’ circuitry, strengthening specific thought processes by exercising the neural systems that control them. The implications are enormous: lifelong pessimists can train themselves to think positively and find happiness, while pleasure-seekers inclined toward risky or destructive behavior can take control of their lives.
Drawing on her own cutting-edge research, Fox shows how we can retrain our brains to brighten our lives and learn to flourish. With keen insights into how genes, life experiences and cognitive processes interleave together to make us who we are, Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain revolutionizes our basic concept of individuality. We learn that we can influence our own personalities, and that our lives are only as “sunny” or as “rainy” as we allow them to be.
About the Author
Elaine Fox is Head of the Department of Psychology and Centre for Brain Science at the University of Essex, where she researches cognitive psychology, neuroimaging, and genetics. She is the associate editor of the APAs journal Emotion, and her work has been discussed in Nature, Science, New Scientist, The Economist, and the New York Times. A Fellow of the Association of Psychological Science (APA), she lives in Cambridge, England.
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