Being optimistic, feeling positive emotions and controlling negative emotions are all linked to better mental health, psychologists have found.
The good news is that all three traits can be trained and improved.
Practicing these positive traits can actually change vital brain structures.
Indeed, new research reveals that people with these resilient personality factors have greater brain volume in critical areas of their prefrontal cortex.
Dr Sandra Dolcos, study co-author, said:
“People are not necessarily aware of how plastic the brain is.
We can change the volume of the brain through experience and training.
I teach brain and cognition, and students are so empowered at the end of the course because they realize that they are in charge.
It means that we can work on developing new skills, for instance, new emotion regulation strategies that have a more positive approach, and can actually impact the brain.”
The conclusions come from 85 people who were given both brain scans and personality tests.
The scans focused on the prefrontal area of the brain, the region above and behind the eyes.
Dr Dolcos explained:
“We knew from the clinical literature that there are relationships between brain volume and certain personality traits.
Lower brain volume in certain areas is associated with increased anxiety.”
Mr Matt Moore, the study’s first author, explained the results:
“…we found that if you have larger volume in this set of brain regions, you had higher levels of these protective personality traits.”
The scans revealed exactly where higher resilience can be seen in the brain’s structure, Mr Moore said:
“This study gives us the coordinates of the brain regions that are important as well as some traits that are important.
As the next step, we can then try and engage this plasticity at each of these levels and then train against a negative outcome.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Personality Neuroscience (Moore et al., 2018).