What Is Patience?
Patience is a time critical emotion, which provides the energy for perseverance in a task. The emotion is positive and it stills anger and annoyance in the face of delay, or provocation. It also energizes a person to carry on.
The emotion is initiated by the expectation of a reward and terminates, at the expiry of the expected time period for receiving the reward. Time is critical for patience.
While patience is advocated by religions as a virtue to be cultivated, it is mostly initiated and terminated by subconscious pattern recognition processes. Self control, heredity, culture and life experiences resolve the particular signals, which initiate and switch off the patience emotion within each individual.
- Religions advocate patience as a virtue to be cultivated. Being patient brings its own reward of being virtuous.
- Dopamine is released in the forebrain, when a reward is expected. Activation of the prefrontal regions inhibits activity in the amygdala, reducing negativity.
- The release of dopamine is conditional. So those conditions determine the quality of patience.
- Patience improves the quality of judgment.
- Even among animals, the level of patience is determined by the timing of expected rewards.
- Persistence is not necessarily the quality of patience.
- Patience functions only during clear periods of rational thinking.
- Optimists are likely to be more patient.
- Patience is a matter of educating the mind to wait.
Is Patience? -The Religious View
religions praise the virtues of patience. The Hebrew Torah praises
the patient man, because he “shows much good sense, but the
quick-tempered man displays folly at its height." Christianity
advises believers to be "be patient with all. See that no one
returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good for each
other and for all." The Quran advises Muslims to “be firm and
patient, in pain and adversity and throughout all periods of
Buddhism, patience is the ability to control one's emotions, when
being criticized or attacked. Both Hinduism and Buddhism advise
meditation, which helps to choose a patient approach to life itself.
Since devotees believe patience to be a virtue, the practice of
patience brings them its own reward in the induced satisfaction of
being virtuous. An expectation of the rewards of virtue grants them
the patient energy to withstand trials and tribulations.
Is Patience? -Reduced Negative Emotions
persists in the efforts to achieve a rewarding objective. Such
persistence becomes possible because, a patient person is less
vulnerable to the attacks of anger and annoyance in the face of
setbacks. Professor Wolfram Schultz discovered that reward oriented
behavior is promoted by the release of a group of neurotransmitters
by neurons in the approach or avoid system, within the early
reptilian part of the human brain.
neurons detect signals in the environment, which indicate the
possibility of a reward within a specific time frame. The time frame
is decided by the duration of effort required for past fruitful
experiences. By releasing dopamine, these neurons increase neural
activity in the forebrain, mainly in the prefrontal regions, where
attention and analysis take place. Heightened prefrontal activity
inhibits the amygdala, a major emotions center. Reduced amygdala
activity causes a patient person to be systemically less deterred by
fear, anger and annoyance in the face of provocation.
Is Patience? -Novelty And Time
is not the reward, but the expectation of a reward, which releases
dopamine. Its levels rise even if your objective is something as
simple as wanting to cross the road. Increased dopamine strengthens
forebrain activity, which brings clarity to objectives and makes a
person feel more energetic and elated. Nature schedules the induction
of such added focus and energy, timing it precisely to be sufficient
to achieve desired objectives. Schultz recorded the timed release of
dopamine by these neurons on detecting signals, which indicate the
possibility of a reward.
noted that the release increases, if the reward is greater than what
is expected. It continues only for the predicted time period, when a
reward can be expected. The release reduces at the end of this
period. The releases stop if the rewards have become a matter of
routine. Evidently, creative effort is not needed, if the objective
can be achieved mechanically. Thus, true patience, which overcomes
obstructions creatively and without resentment, requires novelty and
a systemic knowledge of the precise timings of expected
Is Patience? -Judgment
accurate judgment of the possibility of a reward, regardless of
setbacks, is a prerequisite for patience. When the brain receives
conflicting reports from different control nuclei in the brain, the
anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) decides the brain region, which
should decisively control the motor system. Laboratory tests reveal
the function of ACC, when a subject is asked to name the color of ink
of a written word. While ACC is passive if the word “RED” is
written in red ink, it becomes activated, if "RED" is
written in blue ink.
detects conflicts and activates those related regions, which can
creatively resolve the conflict. The knowledge of the possibility of
a reward increases levels of dopamine and optimizes this judgmental
system. Such activation of ACC improves the judgment of the existence
of the reward. Activity in ACC also inhibits anger and annoyance and
grants energy to patience.
Is Patience? -The Time Perspective Of Rewards
instinctive time evaluation component of patience exists in humans
and animals. Normally, both tend to choose quick short term rewards
against larger longer term rewards. But, among animal species, a
study found the marmosets to be more patient than the tamarins. The
responses of these animals were tested, giving them the option to
pick a lesser reward immediately or wait longer for a more
substantial reward. The marmosets waited significantly longer than
difference was not caused by the differences in the life history,
brain size, or social behavior of these animals. Since the marmosets
feed on gum, which takes a long while to flow from trees, those
animals were prepared to wait longer. The tamarins, which feed on
easily available insects were less patient. A knowledge of the period
of wait for a reward decides the levels of patience.
Patience? -Not Necessarily Persistence
is decided by the related objective. The emotion is indicated when a
person remains alert and actively engaged in life, in spite of
setbacks, or even defeat. The objective of such a person may be peace
is the approach of Eastern religions. A person may not persist in his
efforts and accept defeat and still be patient. The prime objective
of such people is not to achieve an external goal, but to meet an
goals are to accept life with equanimity. Annoyance and anger are
stilled in their minds, since the reward they value and receive is
peace of mind.
patience in defeat can have supporting nervous energy only if the
expected reward is peace of mind. Without such energy, the
experienced emotion in the face of defeat is resignation and
passivity, not patience.
Is Patience? -Alert, Without Annoyance, Or Despair
seeking external rewards, patience is dynamic. In his famous novel,
James Clavell outlines the patience of Lord Toranaga in his efforts
to conquer his last powerful rival and become the Shogun of Japan.
His objective was to be alert until “one day, he will make one
mistake and then, he too will be gone!” The lord was watchful and
engaged while he waited for his lethal opportunity.
takes calm control of the mind, like the emotion of a fisherman,
sitting with a baited hook. While it is but human to be occasionally
overcome by negative emotions, the emotion of patience functions only
during clear periods of rational thinking. A patient person
perseveres without negative emotions. Those who are angry, or give
up, are not exhibiting patience, but the emotions of vexation, defeat
Is Patience? -Optimism Shifts The Goal Post
which struggles on, despite heavy odds against success, may come from
an optimistic nature. Tali Sharot scanned the brains of optimists,
who sustained a positive outlook towards events (a home team winning
after 10 consecutive losses). ACC monitors conflict and decides motor
activity, based on the emotional experiences of successes and
region interprets conflicting data, generating ERN (error related
negativity) for errors and ERP (positive signals) for correct
answers. Tali noted that, for optimists, ACC appeared to be more
active. Their positive expectations of a reward endured longer. Just
as motor impulses continue firing to contract muscles till the target
is achieved, dopamine release continues longer for optimists,
powering them to persist longer. Though their judgments may be
biased, they were likely to be more patient in their efforts.
Is Patience? -Educating The Mind To Wait
is triggered by subconscious signals of expected rewards. The reward
may be as simple as reaching a counter, while standing in a queue.
The governing criterion is the internally expected timing of the
reward. The energy and interest triggered by patience vanishes, when
that expected period of wait is over. For those prone to impatience,
the simple remedy may be to accept the possibility of a longer wait,
or even that the counter will close before it is reached.
comes from a realistic assessment of the time it takes to achieve a
reward. Like marmosets, a willingness to wait helps all aspects of
life. When such an objective is expressed consciously, those waiting
periods at traffic lights, or in queues, can become periods, when the
mind becomes relaxed and refreshed. When the reward is seen to be
peace of mind, such periods will also fill the mind with
This page was last updated on 02-Jan-2014.