October 10, 2011
Research Show Why People Remain Optimistic
A study published on Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience reveals that people who are optimistic about the outcome of events tend to learn only from information that reinforces their point-of-view in the world.
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging at University College London studied 19 volunteers, showing them a series of negative life events while the team scanned brain activity using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.
The participants were then asked to estimate the probability of each event occurring to them after the scanning sessions were done. The volunteers were also asked to fill out a questionnaire measuring their level of optimism.
The researchers found that people updated their estimates based on the information given, but only if the information was better than expected.
All the participants in the experiment showed increased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain when the information given was better than expected.
"Our study suggests that we pick and choose the information that we listen to," Dr Tali Sharot from the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging, said in a press release. "The more optimistic we are, the less likely we are to be influenced by negative information about the future.
"This can have benefits for our mental health, but there are obvious downsides. Many experts believe the financial crisis in 2008 was precipitated by analysts overestimating the performance of their assets even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary."
Dr John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, commented on the study, saying: "Being optimistic must clearly have some benefits, but is it always helpful and why do some people have a less rosy outlook on life? Understanding how some people always manage to remain optimistic could provide useful insights into happens when our brains do not function properly."
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