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Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook

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Overview

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 ...

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Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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, andher 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)
From the Publisher
Michael J. Fox
“Every day I send my kids out the door to school with this admonition, ‘you can choose to be happy.’  More often than not, they roll their eyes, but in Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain Elaine Fox (no relation) offers a scientific argument for my contention.  After much research, and in comprehensive, but comprehensible detail, Professor Fox provides a mental map to the sunny side of the street.  For optimists and pessimists alike, this fascinating book is a must read.”

Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self
“Every experience you have, from the most trivial to the most significant, alters the brain.  Elaine Fox offers scientifically based advice about how to make the most of this, how to be in charge of changing your brain for the better.”
 

Publishers Weekly
“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 and those associated with pleasure and optimism…. Fox introduces readers to many new concepts from experimental psychology and recent research on neuroplasticity and neurogenesis…. [A] welcome, if intellectually demanding, introduction to a key area of brain research.”
 
Kirkus Reviews
“A psychologist looks at the influence that outlook – a tendency toward optimism or pessimism – can play in shaping the events in our lives…. An insightful addition to the self-help bookshelf.”
 

Library Journal “Fox brings to this book a wealth of knowledge and experience from her many years as head of the psychology department and Center for Brain Science at the University of Essex. She explains how the latest research in the areas of genetics, neurology, and psychology intersects and how it relates to optimistic versus pessimistic attitudes toward life…. Fox’s writing style will appeal to a lay audience with scholarly interests.”

PhiladelphiaInquirer
“It’s worth sticking with the hard science of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain. Fox offers persuasive arguments that ‘we are well on the way toward creating people and societies that will allow healthy minds to truly flourish.’”
 
New York Times“An informative new book on the science of optimism.”

Library Journal
Fox (fellow, Magdalen Coll., Univ. of Oxford; Emotion Science: Cognitive and Neuroscientific Approaches to Understanding Human Emotions) brings to this book a wealth of knowledge and experience from her many years as head of the psychology department and Center for Brain Science at the University of Essex. She explains how the latest research in the areas of genetics, neurology, and psychology intersects and how it relates to optimistic versus pessimistic attitudes toward life. She illustrates how the portion of the brain responsible for fear is connected to pessimistic reactions and failure expectations, and this results, when activated, in both the chemical and the behavioral paralysis of a test subject's reactions. Likewise, pleasure, a sense of empowerment, and problem-solving abilities are enhanced by stimulation of the section of the brain responsible for optimism. VERDICT This is not a fluffy self-help book; in fact, while results from research studies are discussed, only near the end of the book are any practical suggestions offered to readers looking for ways to exchange their rainy brain for a sunny one. Fox's writing style will appeal to a lay audience with scholarly interests.—Crystal Renfro, Georgia Inst. of Tech Lib., Atlanta
Kirkus Reviews
A psychologist looks at the influence that outlook--a tendency toward optimism or pessimism--can play in shaping the events in our lives. For the past 20 years, Fox (Head of the Department of Psychology and Centre for Brain Science/Univ. of Essex) has studied how "the diverse ways in which people interpret the world around them" are reflective of optimistic or pessimistic mindsets. She reports on experiments that differentiate between these mindsets in a variety of circumstances: the direction of a subject's attention to positive or negative images, brain scans that reflect the activation of different pathways in the brains, longitudinal studies that correlate personality type and life success. The author explains that the human brain has evolved two different circuits--the "rainy brain," which allows us to have a rapid response to perceived danger, and the "sunny brain," which directs us to pleasurable activities. Both are necessary to help us cope with our environment, but experiments show that the predominance of one over the other is observable in sunny-brained optimistic people compared with rainy-brained pessimists. The difference reflects the "delicate ebb and flow of circuits deep in our brain that shapes the contours and valleys of our personality"--e.g., while the pleasure circuitry of both optimists and pessimists are triggered by positive experiences, the activation will last longer for those with sunnier dispositions. Not only have optimists been shown to be happier, but they tend to be more successful in flexibly meeting life's challenges. While there may be genetic factors involved in the development of personality type, Fox suggests it is possible to adjust the "reactivity of these brain areas," although sometimes professional help is advisable. An insightful addition to the self-help bookshelf.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465019458
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 6/5/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 321,448
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Elaine Fox is currently a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford and Director of the Affective Neuroscience Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, where she leads a program of research combining cognitive psychology, neuroimaging, and genetics. She has been Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex and an associate editor of leading scientific journals including Emotion and Cognition & Emotion. 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 (APS), she divides her time between Wivenhoe and Oxford in England.

 

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Table of Contents

Introduction vii

1 Rainy Brains and Sunny Brains 1

The Affective Mind

2 Sunny-Side Up 31

Investigating Optimism

3 The Rainy Brain 65

Why Optimism Is More Elusive Than Pessimism

4 Optimism and Pessimism Genes 95

Are There Genes for the Way We Are?

5 The Malleable Mind 127

The Remarkable Plasticity of the Human Brain

6 New Techniques to Reshape Our Brains 163

From Fear to Flourishing

Acknowledgments 201

Notes 203

Index 241

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2012

    Informative and essential!

    This is one of the most important books I've ever read. It's packed with facts that allow you to shape your path to change and personal empowerment. There's nothing "airy-fairy" about this book. Be prepared to learn about the latest research in behavioral science and genetics. This book is a tool for change. I have both audio and ebook formats.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2012

    Gorge

    Cats are forbidden to go withen two foxlengths of the edge. ~ Mistystar

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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