No matter how much information you get, if itâ€™s not good news your brain doesnâ€™t want to hear it. This is great news for your health, as research has shown those with positive attitudes live longer and are healthier than those who see the world in a negative light.
According to research published in Nature Neuroscience, â€œthe brain is very good at processing good news about the future, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.â€ In some people any information to the contrary is practically ignored as they retain a positive view of the world.
Researchers at the University College London report they are finding that approximately 80% of people are actually positive thinkers, although many will not label themselves that way. There is a very fundamental bias in the brain,â€ says Dr Tali Sharot, head researcher.
Fourteen people received a brain scan after their level of optimism was tested. Each was asked the likelihood of 80 different â€œbad eventsâ€, including divorce and potential for cancer, would happen in their lives. Then they were provided with statistics and information about each of the events and asked to again rate the likelihood of it happening to them after they had been educated on the possibilities.
There was a distinct difference in the before and after ratings, depending on what was happening in their own lives. For example: the risk of cancer was set at 30% by the research team. If the subject believed their risk for cancer before the session was 40%, at the end of the experiment they downgraded their risk to about 31%, according to Dr. Sharot.
However, if the subject believed their risk before the session was only 10% they increased their rating slightly – “leaned a little bit, but not a lot”.
According to the researchers, when the news was positive everyone had more activity in the brainâ€™s frontal lobes â€“ which processes errors. With negative information the most optimistic people showed the least amount of frontal lobe activity, while those who were more negative had the most activity. This suggests that the â€œbrain is picking and choosing which evidence to listen to.â€
Dr Sharot said: “Smoking kills messages don’t work as people think their chances of cancer are low. The divorce rate is 50%, but people don’t think it’s the same for them. There is a very fundamental bias in the brain.”
For Dr Chris Chambers, neuroscientist from the University of Cardiff, said: “It’s very cool, a very elegant piece of work and fascinating. For me, this work highlights something that is becoming increasingly apparent in neuroscience, that a major part of brain function in decision-making is the testing of predictions against reality – in essence all people are ‘scientists’, and despite how sophisticated these neural networks are, it is illuminating to see how the brain sometimes comes up with wrong and overly optimistic answers despite the evidence.” But as Dr Sharot points out: “The negative aspect is that we underestimate risks.”
In addition, optimism seems to be good for your health. Another study of 100,000 women showed a reduced rate of heart disease and death in optimistic women as opposed to negative thinking ones.
I find this information interesting. I have found that a positive attitude is good for memory improvement as well. It improves self-image and that opens up the channels for better reception of information.
BBC News â€“ Brain â€˜rejects Negativity: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15214080
BBC News – Optimistic Women Live Longer: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8193180.stm