As human beings, we tend to expect to live longer and be healthier than average, whereas we might underestimate our likelihood of getting divorced. Researchers have now linked this tendency for future optimism to activity in a small network of areas in the brain, and report their findings in Nature.
Optimism for the future is a common human trait. We often expect positive events to occur without any direct evidence to support these expectations. In the current study, Elizabeth A. Phelps and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine how the brain generates this optimism bias. They find that when individuals imagine positive future events relative to negative ones, enhanced activation occurs in the amygdala and rostral anterior cingulate cortex - brain areas whose function may be disrupted in depression. Activation levels in these areas are also found to correlate with individual tendencies towards optimism.
This study highlights the brain mechanisms underlying our inclination to engage in the projection of future positive events. The authors suggest it might also provide insight into those mechanisms underlying depression, which has been related to pessimism.
Elizabeth A. Phelps (New York University, NY, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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