Think positive

Neural mechanisms mediating optimism bias.
Sharot T, Riccardi AM, Raio CM, Phelps EA.
Nature. 2007 Nov 1;450(7166):102-5

Background: Humans expect positive events in the future even when there is no evidence to support such expectations. For example, people expect to live longer and be healthier than average, they underestimate their likelihood of getting a divorce, and overestimate their prospects for success on the job market.

Methods: We examined how the brain generates this pervasive optimism bias. Here we report that this tendency was related specifically to enhanced activation in the amygdala and in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex when imagining positive future events relative to negative ones, suggesting a key role for areas involved in monitoring emotional salience in mediating the optimism bias.

Results: These are the same regions that show irregularities in depression, which has been related to pessimism. Across individuals, activity in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex was correlated with trait optimism.

Conclusion: The current study highlights how the brain may generate the tendency to engage in the projection of positive future events, suggesting that the effective integration and regulation of emotional and autobiographical information supports the projection of positive future events in healthy individuals, and is related to optimism.