The work of Professor Elaine Fox who directs the Oxford Centre for Emotions and Affective Neuroscience (OCEAN) based in the Department of Experimental Psychology, is featured in a forthcoming Horizon programme presented by Michael Mosley. The programme called The Truth about Personality is due to air on BBC2 on Wednesday 10th July at 9.00 pm.
Michael approached Elaine with a surprising complaint. Despite a highly successful career as a TV presenter, being author of a bestselling book, and having a happy home life Michael says that he is not content. He’s been an insomniac for many years, wakes up in the early hours and worries about things, is always convinced that nobody will watch his next programme and generally has a tendency to catastrophise. “When I think about the future” he tells Elaine “I see all the things that are likely to go wrong, rather than the things that might go well”. Having read Elaine’s recent book Rainy Brain Sunny Brain: The New Science of Optimism and Pessimism he thought that her research might be able to help shift his mind from being that of a pessimist to be more optimistic. In the show, Elaine sets Michael the task of engaging in “cognitive bias modification” (CBM) for an 8-week period as well as doing regular sessions of mindfulness-based meditation. CBM is a type of cognitive “positivity training” designed to shift pessimistic biases in a healthier direction. Research now shows that this technique can modify biases and can lead to a more optimistic mindset. Likewise, regular sessions of meditation have been shown to lead to improvements in mental health and wellbeing. Michael came into Elaine’s lab (then at the University of Essex) and underwent lots of tests looking at the nature of his cognitive biases as well as looking at how his brain reacted to different affective situations. All of these did indeed confirm that he had a generally pessimistic mental mindset and pattern of brain reactivity. Michael then went away for 7 weeks and did both CBM and meditation at least three times a week. He then came back to the lab to see what had changed. Without giving the game away, the results were remarkable.
You can see what happened in the show on 10th July 2013.
If you want to try out some of tests that we gave Michael you can have a go yourself on the following webpage: http://www.rainybrainsunnybrain.com/bbc-horizon. You can find out how you compare to others on an optimism questionnaire, test out your cognitive biases, and take the CBM positivity training.