Daniel Siegel, MD, is Clinical Professor of psychiatry at UCLA, Co-Director of Mindful Awareness Research Center, Executive Director of Mindsight Institute, author, and recipient of numerous awards and honorary fellowships.
Siegel says (4.6) that when kids develop capacity for reflection they are better able to mention their feelings and then to be able to manage them. That’s the basis of emotional intelligence and it’s also the basis of social intelligence because, when we understand our own feelings and learn to manage them we can understand other people. Siegel says that, regardless of whether you’re looking at mental health, physiological health, longevity or happiness the number one factor in all of those studies is relationships. There is a lot of research that tells us that our positive connections and relationships with other people are the best predictors of all of these variables.
Is the mind the brain or is it something else? The field that studies this, his field, is “interpersonal neuro biology”. Siegel says that they combine all of the fields of science into one perspective. He described the brain and mind below.
Your brain does not just consist of the brain in your head. It also includes your spinal cord, a brain around your heart and brain and around your intestines. If you clench your fist with your thumb inside your fist you have an approximation of the human head brain. If you open your hand and look at the base of your hand this is the this is the part of the brain known as the reptilian brain. It is the first part of the brain to form in the womb and it was the first part of the brain and to form through evolution approximately 300 million years ago. This is the part of the brain that keeps us awake and alert. Is also responsible for the fight or flight or freeze reaction.
The area represented by your thumb is the limbic area. It developed 200 million years ago and it is the second area to begin developing in utero. The limbic area combines with the brainstem to create your emotions and works with other parts of the brain to create memories. This is the part of the brain that lets you feel connected to your mother.
The area represented by your fingers is called the cortex and is the part of the brain that grows after being born and it is influenced by your experiences.
The back part of your brain (posterior) is very connected to the outside world.
The front part of the brain is called the frontal cortex allows you to think and reflect. This is the part of the brain that allows you to manage and mention your emotions.
When you play a game and you feel excited this is a sensation called the “subjective experience” and this is what the mind is. Sometimes you aware of things and other times you are not. Awareness is also something that is done by the mind. The mind also helps to regulate how all of this information flows in your awareness, in your subjective experience and even how you communicate to other people.
The area right behind your four head is the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex allows you to pick up on what’s happening inside of someone else’s nervous system, for example when you see somebody that is sad you feel sad. The brain is taking information from multiple sources and sending them to different parts of your prefrontal cortex and this is called integration. When two people honor each other and care about each other through communication and other actions this results in an integrative relationship.
Siegel says that the important conclusion to draw from his research is that when you have reflection and you have relationships that are connected and caring you actually stimulate the growth of the integrative fibers in the brain. And these are the fibers that allow you to have resilience.
Some parents put their babies in front of certain types of videos because there has been some research indicating that they assist with development. However, there is research indicating that development is much better when the child interacts with other humans. It goes without saying that we did not evolve to develop by watching video. Although watching the video may be better than doing nothing it is still substandard compared to exposure to other humans.
Next article in this series: “Courage And Vulnerability”