Most people instinctively know that a positive outlook on life improves both physical and mental health, while a pessimistic view of life, on the other hand, relates frequently with depressive symptoms.
What New York University researchers wanted to understand is if an optimistic attitude can be linked to the same brain regions that show irregularities in people who suffer from depression. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) some participants in the study were asked to imagine a positive future event, such as winning an award, while other participants were asked to image a negative future event, such as the end of a romantic relationship.
Researchers found that participants more vividly imagined future events than negative events. Participants also felt that the positive events were more likely to occur in the near future, while negative events were imagined to happen later in time.
When participants imagined positive future events it activated the rostral anterior cingulate and amygdala areas of the brain. These are the same areas of the brain that seem to malfunction in people suffering depression. The rostral anterior cingulate are of the brain is believed to regulate emotional responses, which suggest that healthy individuals are better able to regulate emotional and autobiographical information to create a positive outlook of future events.