Brain Imaging Reveals Why Optimists Are The Way They Are

Why are some people just so. Optimistic. All. The. Time?

New research shows that it could all be in the brain.

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging have found that people who hold optimistic feelings for the future (despite all signs indicating the opposite) has to do with "faulty" functioning of the frontal lobes in the brain.

"Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty can be a positive thing –- it can lower stress and anxiety and be good for our health and well-being," study researcher Dr. Tali Sharot said in a statement. "But it can also mean that we are less likely to take precautionary action, such as practising safe sex or saving for retirement. So why don't we learn from cautionary information?"

Researchers presented negative scenarios -- such as a car being stolen or someone developing Parkinson's disease -- to 19 volunteers, who were lying in a machine that measures brain activity. The participates rated the likelihood of each event happening to them, and then they were told the actual probability that it would happen to them.

Then, the study participants were asked again how likely they thought the scenarios were to happen to them. Their optimism levels were gauged with a questionnaire.

Researchers found that optimists were more likely to "pick and choose" what information they pay attention to, especially when the information is negative.

For example -- if someone thought that their risk of cancer was 40 percent, but was then told that their actual risk was 30 percent, the person lowered their own self-decided risk to 31 percent, BBC News reported.

But if the person thought his or her cancer risk was only 10 percent to begin with and then was told the actual risk was 30 percent, they only increased their risk by a little bit, according to BBC News.

The brain imaging also revealed that in light of negative information, optimists' brains didn't code the information as efficiently as they did the positive information. The work was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Other research shows that optimistic thinking among teens can help to lessen depression and other health risks like substance abuse and emotional problems, MedPageToday reported.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the "actual" cancer risk used in the experiment.