The neuroscience of optimism – how the brain creates a rosy outlook

In 1979, a crucified Eric Idle advised movie-goers to always look on the bright side of life. It seems that he needn’t have bothered. Psychological experiments have consistently shown that as a species, our minds are awash with a pervasive optimism.

We have an innate tendency to look on the bright side of life.We expect our future successes to overpower our past ones. Compared to an imaginary Joe Bloggs, we deem ourselves likely to live longer, more likely to have a successful career and less likely to suffer divorce or ill health. Even the most cynical of minds had a tendency for making similar, overconfident predictions.

Now, Tali Sharot and colleagues form New York University have pinpointed a neural circuit in the brain that generates this glass-half-full outlook.

Continue reading