June 24, 2021

Altered Traits Book Review (How Meditation can Alter the Brain)

By Thomas Hlubin, Founder


I first learned about this book after listening to the Waking Up podcast (now called the Making Sense podcast) titled “The Science of Meditation,” where philosopher Sam Harris had on two guests, psychologist Daniel Goleman, PhD, and neuroscientist Richard Davidson, PhD, both of whom are the authors of Altered Traits.

I deeply enjoyed listening to the podcast as I was still very new to meditation at that point in my life, in December 2017. I drove all the way to Biloxi, MS from my house to getaway and must have listened to the podcast 2-3 times over the course of the short trip there and back. It was just what I wanted to hear. It was just what I needed to hear.

After finally reading the book a few years after hearing that incredible podcast, I must say that I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in meditation, especially anyone who meditates consistently. The authors do a great job showing the science of numerous meditation modalities, such as mindfulness, vipassana, and Metta (loving-kindness), among others.

Now, while I found the science to be very impressive, I do deeply appreciate how honest both Dr. Goleman and Dr. Davidson were as they made sure on several occasions to reassure the reader that while many of the studies that have been done on meditation are promising, they do indeed have their fair share of problems.

These occasional caveats were a great sigh of relief for me as I read through to the end as I was pleased to not be bombarded with pseudo-scientific claims of meditation being more than it is or over-exaggerating it’s already many benefits.

While the book covers much of both Dr. Goleman and Dr. Davidson’s personal experiences with meditation dating back to when they were both in grad school in Harvard when their interest in the science of meditation was first sparked all the way to the many experiences and research which has lead to the culmination of Altered Traits.

Chapter 13: Altering Traits is a great summation of the many benefits that can be procured from mindfulness meditation. They do so by briefly categorizing the benefits by the amount of hourly practice. From beginners (under 100 total hours of practice), the “long-term” group (roughly 9,000 lifetime hours), and the yogis, which are often referred to as Olympic Meditators (lifetime hours up to 62,000+).

I decided to get back into mindfulness meditation as a way to eventually stop taking psychiatric medication for my anxiety. Based on the empirical evidence I have read in Altered Traits, my decision to meditate more (currently 60 mins a day, soon to be more) has been a rather effortless one. After reading this book I now strive to be in the “long-term” group (1,000 to 10,000 lifetime hours). As is described in the book, in this range we see the emergence of neural and hormonal indicators of lessened stress reactivity, less cortisol production, a less reactive amygdala, increased attention, and a lack of self-obsessed thoughts, among many other benefits.

If you are unsure as to whether or not meditation can benefit you, especially mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation (Ch. 6 Primed for Love), then I implore you to read Altered Traits as what you will learn will surely clear up any misconceptions you may have about meditation and may perhaps even motivate you to take action as it has done for myself in my own life.


About the author

Thomas created Psych Times with the vision of helping those with mental illness find new and effective ways to cope with their symptoms, ultimately leading to increased equanimity. Struggling with anxiety for much of his life, he is also passionate about helping to end the stigma of mental illness.

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