Are you (still) an optimist? These questions may help explain why

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Evidence also suggests that optimism is basically the same across racial categories and is largely similar in males and females. And, in general, this is a fairly stable trait: people who are optimistic when they are young tend to be optimistic in old age.

But where does the capacity for optimism come from? Dr Elaine Fox, Professor of Psychology at the University of Adelaide, has studied the neuroscience of optimism and pessimism. She frames these two attitudes as expressions of our two most basic drives: the pursuit of reward and the avoidance of danger.

Those drives involve two primary brain structures, he explained: the amygdala, which is associated with emotional responses like fear and uncertainty, and the nucleus accumbens, which is involved in our pleasure system. Both are ancient structures that we have in common with many other animals. But, in humans, both structures are in constant interaction with our prefrontal cortex, which underpins, or causates with, other parts of the brain.

The standard analogy is an accelerator and a brake. In a highly anxious individual, the amygdala may be more active as an accelerator, while the prefrontal cortex is less likely to slam on the brakes. In an optimist, Dr. The nucleus accumbens may be more active, Fox said, while “the one that controls it is also slightly less active.”

She explained that the pleasure system in the brain is not just about feelings of pleasure or satisfaction. They drive and drive our desires as well. Dr. Fox argued that much of the success attributed to having an optimistic outlook is actually about persistence and adaptability. “It’s not some kind of magic potion,” she said of optimism—it’s that people inclined toward optimism are more likely to persevere in pursuing their goals.

Or, as Dr. Seligman said: “Optimists try harder.” And it helps in all kinds of evolutionarily beneficial ways, including “sex and survival”.

Beyond the most basic evolutionary conflicts, we know that optimism is good for us overall. Optimists live longer, are more successful professionally and are less likely to experience depression and other illnesses.

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