Richard Davidson is one of the world's foremost brain scientists. He is the Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Davidson is a graduate of New York University and received his PhD from Harvard University in 1976.
Davidson specializes in research on brain function related to emotion, both in normal individuals and those with, or at risk of, depression and anxiety. His labs are state-of-the art facilities utilizing quantitative electrophysiology, positron emission tomography (PET scan), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
He is the recipient of numerous awards for his research, including a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Award, a MERIT Award from NIMH, an Established Investigator Award from the National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders, and the William James Fellow Award from the American Psychological Society. He was the 1997 Distinguished Scientific Lecturer for the American Psychological Association. He served as a Core Member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network in Mind-Body Interaction, is currently a Core Member of the MacArthur Foundation Mind-Brain-Body and Health Initiative and a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors, NIMH. In 2001-02 he served on the National Academy of Sciences Panel to evaluate the validity of the polygraph. He was the year 2000 recipient of the most prestigious award given by the American Psychological Association for lifetime achievement—the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. He has published more than 150 articles, many chapters and reviews and edited 12 books.
Throughout its history, psychological science has focused on mental illness
and dysfunction, in order to help people suffering from these afflictions.
Davidson has been deeply involved in such studies, but also sees the need
for a science of positive emotions, of compassion, caring and altruism.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, credits
Davidson with having pioneered a significant new field of study, in which
“the methods of science are able to get their arms around questions of the
brain and human consciousness with rigor."
In this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, Davidson discusses one his most intriguing ongoing projects, in which his team is studying brain function during meditation, focusing on the short- and long-term effects on the meditators' brains. With the encouragement and direct involvement of the Dalai Lama, his team was given access to Tibetan monks who have spent at least one three-year period in retreat, where they meditate eight hours a day for three continuous years. Davidson calls these monks "the Olympic athletes of meditation," and sees his research on their brain function as a way to study the fullness of human potential. Davidson also co-authored a study with Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, that evaluated the effects of mindfulness meditation training, including its effects on indicators of immune system function.
Readers with a scientific bent can learn more about Davidson's work at his University of Wisconsin web page: http://psych.wisc.edu/faculty/bio/davidson.html. There are links there to Davidson's scientific papers, many in full-text versions.
Non-scientist readers interested in learning about Davidson's work on
meditation and emotions will enjoy his book (with Anne Harrington), Visions
of Compassion: Western Scientists and Tibetan Buddhists Examine Human
Nature (Oxford University Press, 2001), as well as Daniel Goleman's
Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them? (Bantam, 2002), andHealing
Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions and
Health (Shambhala, 2003). These highly readable books describe meetings
where the Dalai Lama met with Davidson and other Western scientists,
sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute (www.mindandlife.org).