Optimism is known to benefit physical health, emotional health, and longevity. And one way in which it does so may be by reducing the brain’s reactions to negative information. This is a key finding of a study of the neural correlates of emotion processing related to optimism conducted by Dilip Jeste, M.D., chair in aging and a distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues. Their results are published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Sciences. Jeste is also APA’s immediate past president.
Jeste and colleagues had older individuals without a history of psychiatric disorders complete multiple standardized self-report measures to assess how optimistic they were. The researchers then used fMRI imaging to examine the brains of the individuals while they viewed faces whose expression indicated fear—that is, processed negative information. They found that greater optimism was associated with reduced activation in the fusiform gyrus and frontal regions, even after taking potential confounding variables, such as cortical thickness and amygdala volume, into consideration. These “findings have potential implications for the promotion of successful aging,” Jeste and his colleagues stated in their study report. In brief, “Optimists may be relatively less fearful, particularly about the likelihood of negative events.”