Indeed, Dr. Davidson has discovered what he believes is a quick way to index a person's typical mood range, by reading the baseline levels of activity in these right and left prefrontal areas. That ratio predicts daily moods with surprising accuracy. The more the ratio tilts to the right, the more unhappy or distressed a person tends to be, while the more activity to the left, the more happy and enthusiastic.
By chance, Dr. Davidson had the opportunity to test the left-right ratio on a senior Tibetan lama, who turned out to have the most extreme value to the left of the 175 people measured to that point.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn taught mindfulness to workers in a high-pressure biotech business for roughly three hours a week over two months. A comparison group of volunteers from the company received the training later, though they, like the participants, were tested before and after training by Dr. Davidson and his colleagues.
The results bode well [...]
Dr. Ekman has developed a measure of how well a person can read another's moods as telegraphed in rapid, slight changes in facial muscles.
As Dr. Ekman describes in "Emotions Revealed," [reported by Malcolm Gladwell a few months ago - AB] these microexpressions — ultrarapid facial actions, some lasting as little as one-twentieth of a second — lay bare our most naked feelings. We are not aware we are making them; they cross our faces spontaneously and involuntarily, and so reveal for those who can read them our emotion of the moment, utterly uncensored.
Perhaps luckily, there is a catch: almost no one can read these moments. Though Dr. Ekman's book explains how people can learn to detect these expressions in just hours with proper training, his testing shows that most people — including judges, the police and psychotherapists — are ordinarily no better at reading microexpressions than someone making random guesses.
Yet when Dr. Ekman brought into the laboratory two Tibetan practitioners, one scored perfectly on reading three of six emotions tested for, and the other scored perfectly on four. And an American teacher of Buddhist meditation got a perfect score on all six, considered quite rare. Normally, a random guess will produce one correct answer in six.
Such findings, along with urgings from the Dalai Lama, inspired Dr. Ekman to design a program called "Cultivating Emotional Balance," which combines methods extracted from Buddhism, like mindfulness, with synergistic training from modern psychology, like reading microexpressions, and seeks to help people better manage their emotions and relationships.
(Finding Happiness, Feb 4th)