College Lecture Explains Negative Bias and Proposes how to Re-Wire

Robert Altobello gave the keynote address at the SUNY Empire Spring 2016 ‘Work & Life Balance’ residency at the Hartsdale campus on May 21st. His lecture about mindful self-care, he told students and contemporaries, would be shared for the last time before his highly anticipated retirement after the fall term this year. Professor Altobello, a graduate of SUNY Empire himself, has been on staff at Empire for over twenty years. He is a deeply contemplative philosopher, something that comes across in dialogue despite any topic, a published academic writer and a mentor to students and faculty alike. He started his keynote with a mandatory 5 minutes of practiced relaxation. Our culture isn’t likely to relax unless given the opportunity, so I found this reminder and enactment to be a welcomed experience.

“Stop driving with the brakes on!” he announced. It’s wonderful to see a professor of higher education in his element. Students watched on eagerly as he discussed bottom-up thinking (reacting to) and top down (choosing to react) by taking executive control of your own attention.

Professor Robert Altobello

Focus on what you did right.

It turns out it’s rather evolutionary to dwell on a crisis and bad news. We’re genetically pre-dispositioned to a negativity bias, he explained, because of the human experience over thousands of years. Essentially, survival. As adults, the implicit memories of our childhood can heavily influence our behavioral patterns and this deeply wired aspect of our psyche must be overwritten. By this, he means taking control of situations.

When you go home for the holidays, how long does it take you to fall back into the patterns of being a teenager at home with your parents? This is what he means. In order to take your patterns in a new direction, you must acknowledge your feelings and purposefully redirect to some new and healthier place. Psychology might refer to this on a practicing level as cognitive behavioral therapy.  

Professor Altobello rounded out his discussion with a look at the sections of the brain and their function in the aforementioned experience. The good news is that the hippocampus can create new brain cells, thus allowing for new patterns to emerge. Stress can also threaten this part of the brain, causing it to shrink and therefore become less able to defend itself against stress. The choice really is ours.

Professor Altobello’s book is called Meditation from Buddhist, Hindu, and Taoist Perspectives. It’s available on Amazon. He works at the Newburgh campus for SUNY Empire located at 3 Washington Center, Newburgh.

Events at the SUNY Harstdale campus are frequently open to the community at large. Check the website for details.

Congratulations on your retirement, Robert! Wishing you well at the Villages in sunny Florida.