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Stimulated by a recent meeting between Western psychologists and the Dalai Lama on the topic of destructive emotions, we report on two issues: the achievement of enduring happiness, what Tibetan Buddhists call sukha, and the nature of afflictive and nonafflictive emotional states and traits. A Buddhist perspective on these issues is presented, along with discussion of the challenges the Buddhist view raises for empirical research and theory.
Contemplative practices are believed to alleviate psychological problems, cultivate prosocial behavior and promote self-awareness. In addition, psychological science has developed tools and models for understanding the mind and promoting well-being. Additional effort is needed to combine frameworks and techniques from these traditions to improve emotional experience and socioemotional behavior. An 8-week intensive (42 hr) meditation/emotion regulation training intervention was designed by experts in contemplative traditions and emotion science to reduce “destructive enactment of emotions” and enhance prosocial responses. Participants were 82 healthy female schoolteachers who were randomly assigned to a training group or a wait-list control group, and assessed preassessment, postassessment, and 5 months after training completion. Assessments included self-reports and experimental tasks to capture changes in emotional behavior. The training group reported reduced trait negative affect, rumination, depression, and anxiety, and increased trait positive affect and mindfulness compared to the control group. On a series of behavioral tasks, the training increased recognition of emotions in others (Micro-Expression Training Tool), protected trainees from some of the psychophysiological effects of an experimental threat to self (Trier Social Stress Test; TSST), appeared to activate cognitive networks associated with compassion (lexical decision procedure), and affected hostile behavior in the Marital Interaction Task. Most effects at postassessment that were examined at follow-up were maintained (excluding positive affect, TSST rumination, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia recovery). Findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior, and they support the benefit of integrating contemplative theories/practices with psychological models and methods of emotion regulation.
The evidence on universals in facial expression of emotion, renewed controversy about that evidence, and new findings on cultural differences are reviewed. New findings on the capability for voluntarily made facial expressions to generate changes in both autonomic and central nervous system activity are discussed, and possible mechanisms by which this could occur are outlined. Finally, new work which has identified how to distinguish the smile of enjoyment from other types of smiling is described.
We used measures of regional brain electrical activity to show that not all smiles are the same. Only one form of smiling produced the physiological pattern associated with enjoyment. Our finding helps to explain why investigators who treated all smiles as the same found smiles to be ubiquitous, occurring when people are unhappy as well as happy. Also, our finding that voluntarily making two different kinds of smiles generated the same two patterns of regional brain activity as was found when these smiles occur involuntarily suggests that it is possible to generate deliberately some of the physiological change which occurs during spontaneous positive affect.