Scientists identify areas of brain that helps to be optimist
Scientists identify areas of brain that helps to be optimist Website
In a major breakthrough, Neuroscientists claimed to have identified the areas of the brain that help us to be optimist. People have a propensity to be optimistic, expecting to live longer and be healthier than the population average, the Nature magazine reported Friday. Knowing which regions of the brain are affected should help us understand this tendency. It could also assist in unpicking the mechanisms of depression, which is related to pessimism and affects the same network of brain regions, the report noted. Elizabeth Phelps and her colleagues from New York University ran into this so-called "optimism bias" when they set out to investigate what happens when people imagine emotional events in the past and future, it said. They had volunteers think about events such as winning an award, or the end of a romantic relationship, and at the same time they scanned their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging. But the researchers hit on a problem. The volunteers were not good at imagining bad things happening to them. They would even turn relatively neutral events, such as getting a haircut, into positive things, it said. "It was very hard to get people to imagine negative events in the future," says Phelps. So the team changed their focus: they decided to look at the brain areas involved in the optimism bias instead. The group asked people to imagine positive and negative events that had either happened in the past or might happen in the future. Then, the volunteers rated their levels of optimism (as a general personality trait) using a standard psychological test, the magazine reported. Imagining positive events in the future was accompanied by activity in two areas of the brain that usually regulate how emotion affects memory and decisions: the amygdala, buried deep within the brain, and the front portion of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which sits just behind the eyes. Conversely, activation in both these areas dropped below average when the volunteers thought about future negative events, researchers found. The more optimistic people considered themselves to be, the greater the activity in the ACC, the Nature reported. That the ACC is involved makes sense to Phelps, since it fits with previous research, the reports notes and quotes her as saying. "When you're in a positive mindset you'll see more activity in this region." More generally, Phelps suggests, the ACC could be acting as a central hub for signals from other parts of the brain that feed into how we feel about events. "We think this is a general regulatory region that may be mediating this tendency we have to think about things optimistically," Phelps added.