Renowned neuroscientist, Richard Davidson, in his book, The emotional life of your brain, claims that there are six dimensions that determine our emotional style. According to Davidson, the six dimensions “arose from systematic studies of the neural basis of emotion”.
Each aspect is a continuum. Some fall at one end or other of each continuum while others might be positioned more towards the middle. The combination of where you fall on each continuum adds up to your overall emotional style.
Here is an outline of the six areas:
1) Your resilience style
This refers to how quickly or slowly you are to recover from adversity. At one end of the continuum are people who bounce back very quickly from setbacks and difficulty, while at the other end are those who recover slowly. A person at one end of the continuum might respond to a setback with renewed energy and determination, while someone at the other end might feel like giving up.
2) Your outlook style
Your outlook style refers to how long you are able to sustain positive emotion. At one end you have positive types who tend to maintain a positive outlook, even in difficult circumstances, while at the other end are those more prone to pessimism and negative thinking.
3) Your social intuition style
This aspect measures your social intelligence – how good you are at picking up social signals from other people that help us understand what they are feeling and thinking. People with high social intuition tend to be able to read other people well, by interpreting the messages they send through their body language and tone of voice.
4) Your self-awareness style
This refers to how aware you are of the messages your body sends you about your internal state through thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Someone with high self-awareness has a good understanding of themselves, while those with low self-awareness (or who are self-opaque) are often unaware of their emotional states, or don’t understand why they act and react in certain (often unhealthy) ways.
5) Your sensitivity to context style
Someone who is tuned in, or sensitive to social context, is able to read the unwritten rules of social interaction and adjust and regulate their emotions and behaviour accordingly. Someone who is ‘tuned out’, might act in ways that are inappropriate in a particular setting.
6) Your attention style
This last aspect refers to how sharp and clear your focus is. Someone with strong attention is able to filter out distractions while focusing on a particular activity, while someone with weak attention is constantly distracted by outside influences and unable to sustain focus for a long period of time.
Optimising your emotional style
Of course, as with all human qualities, we can work to change or improve our styles in order to increase our emotional well-being. We can specifically target different aspects of our emotional style and cultivate qualities that are conducive to improving our abilities in this area through practice.
Davidson prescribes a number of different practices to help us alter our style for the better. He focuses particularly on practices that develop the qualities of appreciation, gratitude, kindness, and mindfulness in us.
Mindfulness in particular can be very beneficial in developing our attention, self-awareness, resilience, outlook, and even the social aspects of emotional style.
Mindfulness practice helps develop our ability to pay attention for sustained periods of time; when we are mindful we also develop a deeper awareness of thoughts, sensations, and emotions that we are experiencing; while the skill of dealing more effectively with negative thought patterns in mindfulness practice can help us to become more resilient and positive in our outlook and attitude.
Through mindful presence we can also learn to tune into and read other people’s body language and empathise with their emotional states while also honing our sensitivity to context.
Ultimately, by identifying certain aspects of our emotional style that we would like to alter we can think of creative ways to practice the skills that will enhance our emotional well-being. The development of certain aspects of our emotional style comes down to a willingness to work on cultivating these qualities in us.