New Scientist discusses a joyous discovery inside our skulls – the bits of the brain responsible for optimism:
Elizabeth Phelps at the New York University, US, and colleagues measured how optimistic 15 volunteers were using a standard questionnaire. The researchers then asked these subjects to lie in a brain scanner and reflect on one of a number of potential scenarios.
Brain scans obtained using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that reflecting on both past and future events activated the amygdala and the [rostral anterior cingulated cortex] (rACC) areas, both of which sit deep in the middle of the brain. However, positive events – and particularly those imagined in the future – elicited a significantly bigger brain response in these regions than reflecting on negative events.
These same parts of the brain – the amygdala and rACC – are involved with chronic depression, so figuring out how they modulate emotions – how they make people feel happy – could lead to all sorts of new therapies. Or, if I have my way, big joy buzzers.