Doctors and grandmas alike agree that optimism is good for your health. Most people want to be happier, more optimistic.
An interesting article was just published in Nature Neuroscience magazine entitled How Unrealistic Optimism is Maintained in the Face of Reality.
A synopsis from BBC News:
“Scientists at University College London rated 14 people for their level of optimism and tested them in a brain scanner. Each was asked how likely 80 different “bad events” – including a divorce or having cancer – were to happen.
They were then told how likely this was in reality. At the end of the session, the participants were asked to rate the probabilities again.
There was a marked difference in the updated scores of optimists depending on whether the reality was good or bad news.
Dr Tali Sharot, lead researcher, gave the example of the risk of cancer being set at 30%.
If the patient thought their risk was 40%, then at the end of the experiment they downgraded their own risk to about 31%, she said.
However, if the patient originally thought their risk was 10%, they only marginally increased their risk – they “leaned a little bit, but not a lot”.
When the news was positive, all people had more activity in the brain’s frontal lobes, which are associated with processing errors. With negative information, the most optimistic people had the least activity in the frontal lobes, while the least optimistic had the most.
It suggests the brain is picking and choosing which evidence to listen to…” [I added the italics.]
I’m thrilled that most of these people said their own chances of experiencing the negative events remained small, even in the face of contrary statistics. Clearly they subconciously have decided to be optimistic about those particular events. I have two questions from the research:
1) while the people in this study appear remarkably optimistic, I wonder what would happen if the consequences of the events didn’t appear so severe. Cancer and divorce are really big, negative events; what would happen if the questions were more along the lines of “what are your chances of getting cut off by a rude driver today?” or “how likely are you to make a fool of yourself in front of your boss/teacher?” What would they respond to “how likely is your business idea to succeed?”
2) I want to know what researchers believe is the cause of the decreased activity in the frontal lobes of the optimistic.
Those who have been reading my blog know that the physical body just follows our spiritual and energetic desires. The frontal lobe reacts to the information based on the beliefs of the individual who is filtering through that information. One of my best posts on this subject was this one.
Very interesting research, I’d love to hear what might readers think: Does the brain “pick and choose which evidence to listen to” as the article says? What does that mean for you if your beliefs are filtering all the evidence you experience around you? How can you use this information to your advantage?
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