Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body

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Two New York Times–bestselling authors unveil new research showing what meditation can really do for the brain.

In the last twenty years, meditation and mindfulness have gone from being kind of cool to becoming an omnipresent Band-Aid for fixing everything from your weight to your relationship to your achievement level. Unveiling here the kind of cutting-edge research that has made them giants in their fields, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson show us the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it.

Sweeping away common misconceptions and neuromythology to open readers’ eyes to the ways data has been distorted to sell mind-training methods, the authors demonstrate that beyond the pleasant states mental exercises can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting personality traits that can result. But short daily doses will not get us to the highest level of lasting positive change—even if we continue for years—without specific additions. More than sheer hours, we need smart practice, including crucial ingredients such as targeted feedback from a master teacher and a more spacious, less attached view of the self, all of which are missing in widespread versions of mind training. The authors also reveal the latest data from Davidson’s own lab that point to a new methodology for developing a broader array of mind-training methods with larger implications for how we can derive the greatest benefits from the practice.

Exciting, compelling, and grounded in new research, this is one of those rare books that has the power to change us at the deepest level.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Avery (September 5, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399184384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399184383
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds

Customer Reviews

Interesting as long as you know what to expect

 on July 6, 2017
By Daffy Du
Altered Traits is the joint effort of two highly respected figures in the world of neuroscience and science journalism, Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman, respectively. They’re also longtime friends who share an abiding interest in the power of meditation.

I actually started skipping through the book to see if there was something useful. There is some useful stuff

 on September 17, 2017
By Ananda Joy
I agree with the others who complained about the first few chapters. I actually started skipping through the book to see if there was something useful. There is some useful stuff, however, I am disappointed in this book. I really liked Richard Davidson’s previous book, so I was excited about this one. However, I don’t think it is well written, and the research points are not explained well in some cases. And there is too much bias towards Buddhism and Tibetan monks. Yes, fine, after tens of thousands of hours of meditation, they are much less reactive than the rest of us when looking at disturbing pictures. And supposedly after a different really hard stress test as well (although I’m not really sure the data proved their point). But let’s have one of these long-time meditators be responsible for a toddler day after day after day. Then let’s see how non-reactive they are. (Wink).

A Welcome Arrival

 on September 25, 2017
By G. Delany Dean
I’m a long-time meditator, psychoiogist, and teacher, and have long wanted to meet Richie Davidson so I could ask him this question: “What do you really think we have in the way of reasonably reliable research findings about the effects of meditation on the human brain and behavior?” This book answers that exact question, so I was truly excited about its arrival on the scene.


 on November 9, 2017
By Michael C Patterson
It is great to have Goleman and Davidson take a hard scientific look at the evidence. They are advocates for meditation and practice themselves, yet they are honest about the quality of research on the topic. Unfortunately, the research is spotty and rather unconvincing. You come away from the book agreeing with the authors that meditation is a good practice but wishing the scientific evidence was stronger. It still feels as though believing in the benefits of meditation is an act of faith. The authors make a distinction between changes states (short-term) and altered traits (long-term). Serious meditators who devote their life to the practice are able to change the wiring of their brain and achieve permanent altered traits. Their brains are wired positively and will stay that way. The rest of us, who do our 15 – 30 minutes of meditation per day, can alter the plasticity of our brains and achieve improved mental states. But, when we stop our meditation practice, our brains slip back into their old stressed out (or, whatever) states. This is an important book for the field. I just wish they had more convincing research to report on.

Reserched Meditation

 on January 29, 2018
By James Cremin, Jr.
I liked the scientific method of proving the power of meditation. It was slow reading because of the numerous footnotes. Yet is the most complete book on the effects of regular meditation.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

 on October 5, 2017
By Steve Gladis
Two superstars have joined forces to bring us a tour de force on the psychology and neuroscience of meditation. After decades of research, myth, and claims about meditation, Dan Goleman and Richie Davidson have separated out the wheat from the chaff. The bottom line results: After just two weeks of meditation, we start to see hints of change: Less reaction to stress, better focus, less mind wandering, improved memory, more compassion, and less bodily inflammation. These early outcomes are fragile and need a daily dose of only 8 minutes of meditation to sustain them. Meditators who rack up 100 hours begin to see deeper, more robust results. And long-term meditators (those with 1,000 hours of meditation) observe even greater change: Significant prefrontal cortex development; significantly less stressful cortisol resulting in less inflammation and decreased reaction to stress; greater sustained and selective attention; slower breath and metabolic rates. In essence, altered brain traits emerge.

Connecting science and experience of practitioners

 on December 17, 2017
By Cristy
I love the thorough review of the science and even the de-bunking of earlier studies with which the authors had experience, noting problems or biases of the earlier studies.


 on July 30, 2017
By A reader
This is an outstanding book by two prominent researchers who are longtime meditators themselves, and have worked together since student days. In this book, the authors set out to answer probing questions about mediation and its effects on the brain and behavior. They take us back to their own early studies of meditation in Asia (fascinating!) and tell lots of stories from their own long experience. As a longtime meditator myself, I so appreciated reading about the various studies they examined about meditation, whether learned in an 8 week program like the MIndfulness Based Stress Reduction Program; a three year intensive retreat; or over many decades, totaling thousands of hours. Different styles of meditation are covered, as well as their varying effects on emotional regulation, focus memory, and such. The brain itself is also discussed. I also very much appreciated the discussion of what makes a fair and unbiased study, which helps me to better understand the media’s coverage of similar studies about health related subjects.

So many words to describe so little

 on September 28, 2017
By Andrew M.
If you want to read a lot of personal history of the authors, have at it. Otherwise I’m reminded of the book “The Relaxation Response” – hundreds of pages of side story for what could have been told in less than 3 pages. There’s not nearly enough meat in here for the verbiage.

Trustworthy Understatement

 on September 25, 2017
By A. Writer
I’m just a reader and daily meditator, but the rigor of the authors’ analysis shows through even to a non-scientist. This book is a readable way into deep secrets, an excellent companion to any good meditation guide, and solid evidence for being hopeful about our future. What a contribution!