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Richard J. Davidson (born December 12, 1951) is professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as well as Founder and Chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center.

Early life and Education

Born in Brooklyn,[1] Richard "Richie" Davidson attended Midwood High School. Whilst there, between 1968–1971, he worked as a summer research assistant in the sleep laboratory at nearby Maimonides Medical Center[1] cleaning electrodes that had been affixed to subjects' bodies for sleep studies.[2]

Davidson went on to receive his B.A. in Psychology from NYU (Heights) in 1972.[1][3][4] He chose to study at Harvard University to work with Daniel Goleman and Gary Schwartz[2] and gained his Ph.D. in Personality, Psychopathology, and Psychophysiology there in 1976.[1][4] At Harvard, Davidson was mentored by David C. McClelland and was also influenced by Norman Geschwind and Walle J. H. Nauta.[2]


In 1976 Davidson took a teaching post at the State University of New York at Purchase where he subsequently held several posts including research consultancies at the Department of Pediatrics, Infant Laboratory, Roosevelt Hospital, New York and the Laboratory of Neurosciences, National Institute on Aging, NIH.[1]

In 1984 he joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison[2] where he has since remained. He is currently Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, the final where he serves as Founder and Chair.[4]


Davidson's research is focused on cortical and subcortical substrates of emotion and affective disorders, including depression and anxiety. Participants in imaging experiments include normal adults and young children, and those with, or at risk for, affective and anxiety disorders. Techniques used include quantitative electrophysiology, positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging to make inferences about patterns of regional brain function. A major focus of his current work is on interactions between prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in the regulation of emotion in both normal subjects and patients with affective and anxiety disorders.

Richard Davidson is popularizing the idea that based on what is known about the plasticity of the brain, we can learn happiness and compassion as skills just as we learn to play a musical instrument, or train in golf or tennis.[5] Happiness, like any skill, requires practice and time but because we know that the brain is built to change in response to mental training, it is possible to train a mind to be happy.[5]

Richard Davidson and his collaborators have used rhesus monkeys as models of human neurophysiology and emotional response since 1992 when he and fellow UW–Madison researchers Ned H. Kalin and Steven E. Shelton published “Lateralized effects of diazepam on frontal brain electrical asymmetries in rhesus monkeys.”[6] In 2004 the same group published further results the role of the central nucleus of the amygdala in mediating fear and anxiety in the primate.[7] In 2007, Drs Kalin, Shelton & Davidson reported that experimental lesions of adolescent rhesus monkeys' orbitofrontal cortex resulted in "significantly decreased threat-induced freezing and marginally decreased fearful responses to a snake."[8]

Dr. Davidson's work with human subjects has attracted the attention of both scientific and popular press, and has been covered by Scientific American[9] and The New York Times.[10]

Research with the Dalai Lama

A longtime friend of the 14th Dalai Lama, some of his work involves research on the brain as it relates to meditation.[5] Davidson has long maintained his own daily meditation practice, and continues to communicate regularly with the Dalai Lama.

This connection has caused controversy, with some scientists criticizing Davidson for being too close to someone with an interest in the outcome of his research and others claiming that it represents an inappropriate mix of faith and science. When he invited the Dalai Lama to participate in the "Neuroscience and Society" program of the Society for Neuroscience meeting in 2005, over 500 researchers signed a petition in protest.[11][12] The majority of the petitioners were Chinese researchers, who may disagree politically with the Dalai Lama's stance on Tibet.[11] The controversy subsided quickly after most scientists attending the talk found it appropriate.[13]

Awards and honors

In 2000, Davidson received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association.[2]

Time magazine named Dr. Davidson one of the world's top 100 most influential people in a 2006 issue.[14]


Davidson has published many papers, chapter articles and edited 13 books.[3] In 2001 he was the founding co-editor, with Klaus Scherer, of the American Psychological Association journal Emotion.[15]

Davidson is currently on the Editorial Board of Greater Good Magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, Berkeley.[16] Dr. Davidson's contributions include the interpretation of scientific research into the roots of compassion, altruism, and peaceful human relationships.[5]

He has written a New York Times bestseller (with Sharon Begley) titled "The Emotional Life of Your Brain," published by Penguin in March 2012.

Selected publications




  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 (2011). Richard J Davidson. URL accessed on 25 April 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Biography from Current Biography (2004). URL accessed on 25 April 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 (2011). RJD CV January 11. (PDF) URL accessed on 25 April 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., Lab Director. URL accessed on 25 April 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Begley, Sharon (January 2, 2007). "Transforming the Emotional Mind" Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, 229–242, Ballantine Books.
  6. (1 September 1992)Lateralized effects of diazepam on frontal brain electrical asymmetries in rhesus monkeys. Biological Psychiatry 32 (5): 438–451.
  7. DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0292-04.2004
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  8. (2007). Role of the Primate Orbitofrontal Cortex in Mediating Anxious Temperament. Biological Psychiatry 62 (10): 1134–9.
  9. Reiner, Peter B. (May 26, 2009). Meditation on Demand. Scientific American.
  10. Fountain, Henry (April 1, 2005). Study of Social Interactions Starts With a Test of Trust. The New York Times.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Foley, Ryan J. Scientist, Dalai Lama share research effort. AP.
  12. Gierland, John (February 2006). Wired 14.02: Buddha on the Brain. Wired 14 (02).
  13. Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit (November 18, 2005). Science. Science 310 (5751).
  14. Weil, Andrew (April 30, 2006). Richard Davidson. Time.
  15. DOI:10.1037/1528-3542.1.1.3
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  16. People. Greater Good. University of California, Berkeley. URL accessed on 25 April 2011.

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