A neural network that may generate the human tendency to be optimistic has been identified by researchers at New York University. As humans, we expect to live longer and be more successful than average, and we underestimate our likelihood of getting a divorce or having cancer. The results, reported in the most recent issue of Nature, link the optimism bias to the same brain regions that show irregularities in depression.
Every report like this one reminds me that we are eventually going to gain the ability to very precisely manipulate our emotions. If we precisely manipulate our own emotions rather than governments or other organizations doing it to us (which is a real possibility) will we become more free?
Anyone want a switch to flip in your brain that activates the optimism circuitry?
The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the laboratory of NYU Professor Elizabeth Phelps. The lead author is Tali Sharot, now a post-doctoral fellow at University College London.
The NYU researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain function while participants thought of possible future life events (such as “winning an award” or “the end of a romantic relationship”).
“When participants imagined positive future events relative to negative ones, enhanced activation was detected in the rostral anterior cingulate and amygdala, which are the same brain areas that seem to malfunction in depression,” said Sharot. “Activation of the rostral anterior cingulate was correlated with trait optimism, with more optimistic participants showing greater activity in this region when imagining future positive events.”
What I wonder: can avoidance of depression somehow be uncoupled from optimism? I'm thinking optimism causes people to mispredict the future and make less than optimal choices.
Remember that scene at the end of Life Of Brian when they are all up on the crosses singing? The updated scientific version of the song would go "use your amygdala and the rostral anterior cingulated cortex to always look on the bright side of life".
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