Optimism Or Depression?

Optimism Bias



Grounded in the rostral anterior cingulate and the amygdala comes the “optimism bias,” that is wired with an energy to keep us positively evolving.

What is interesting is that these parts of the brain are also most active in depression.

So we expect that when this capacity of these parts of the brain are checked in some way or dampened, depression results.

These parts of the brain are not the whole story of optimism, but they are a key to it.

The rostral anterior cingulate, a part of the frontal cortex, is involved with regulating emotion as is the amygdala, located in the limbic system of our basal fight/flight brain.

In other words, if we aren’t using this natural tendency of the brain toward optimism, it can be checked in such a way that the result is depression.

Consider that our natural course of evolution, of personal unfolding, has this optimism bias, and then consider that we can alter it enough to become depressed.

That’s a pretty significant change that we can create with the neuroplasticity in our brain.

If we get more accustomed to negative emotion than positive emotion, and if we forget to feel positive emotion, it is likely that we tone down or depress this bias for optimism.

We feel less positive and we expect less positive things in our life.

We learn not to use positive emotion in our lives because of any number of reasons. I call that “learned-non use of positive emotion”.

We can forget to exercise positive emotion just like we forget to use our muscles or work our bodies.

That’s why we have invented “The Emotional Gym”.

It is a way of exercising positive emotion, of keeping it moving and evolving for a life where we are able to feel strong levels of love, peace, gratitude, joy and hope.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 

About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Audrey Sloofman

    I love learning about the role our brain plays when using some of the techniques I have learned over the year to make myself feel more happiness, joy and positivity. Hearing ideas and techniques about thinking positively have made sense to me, but I thought they were just people’s “good ideas.” When things in life didn’t go “well”, these practices would be deeply questioned or completely stopped by me. Now I see that I have had learned habits in how I used my brain and that I can learn new habits that will allow me to work with my brain and help me maintain a happy and positive viewpoint on a daily basis no matter what life puts in my way.

  • Dr. gloria wright

    It’s interesting to note that we are “wired” for optimism. But we can go against Mother Nature.
    If we don’t manage our positive expectations, thoughts, emotions and beliefs,
    we can diminish what is natural. If we let negativity prevail in our consciousness, those neuropathways get stronger – and the less exercised positive ones grow weaker. It’s like putting water in your gas tank and wondering why your car isn’t running well.
    What we let ourselves think and feel and belief and expect can easily become habits. Those
    habits become the normal reaction. When we’re in traffic, we can “expect”
    drivers to be conscious and considerate, or we can think the boogers are trying
    to cut us off. Rosenthal’s research gave us insights into how other’s
    expectations affect us. When the teachers thought the students would do well,
    they did, and vice versa. Just think about the importance of parenting and
    friends. How others see us matters. It also matters how we see ourselves.
    My daddy liked to say, “Watch the Company You Keep.” Keep company with people who see
    the best in you. Spend time with those who expect you to be kind, thoughtful
    and intelligent. Spend your energy with those who live the “optimism bias.” It’s
    contagious. Be sure to lend your optimism to the blend.

  • Sandra Lintz

    Scientific studies show humans, mice and birds have an optimistic bias. Well, humans do except for those who suffer from depression; those suffering from depression have a measurable pessimism bias. Why does it matter if one is optimistic or pessimistic? If one experiences more time feeling the UpSpiral emotions vs. the down does it really matter? Honey, let me count the ways! Really? Doesn’t it just sort of make sense? Do you want proof? Here are a couple of examples out of the many studies available offering profound evidence regarding the benefits of optimism.

    A study by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission anticipated finding that optimistic pie-in-the-sky small business owners would be less likely to obtain bank financing. In fact they found that enthusiastic and optimistic business owners were more likely to get their loan applications approved. A significant Gallup poll for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that entrepreneurs are more optimistic than other adults employed full time. The entrepreneurs also reported more brain healthy activities such as participating in interesting activities on a daily basis and learning new and interesting things at a greater level than other employed adults.

    Humans with positive or optimistic beliefs improve health, even when facing terrible illnesses. A study published by J.E. Bower in 1998 called “Cognitive processing, discovery of meaning, CD 4 decline, and AIDS-related mortality among bereaved HIV-seropositive men” showed that those with positive concepts of their ability to control their health conditions took longer to develop worsening​ ​disease ​symptoms and experienced a slower course of their illness than those who did not hold positive beliefs about their ability to control their health.

    I’ve only read a few of the multitude of available studies indicating the benefits of optimism and it appears to me that the benefits outweigh the potential pitfalls. Critics of optimism and positivity say it is not realistic; it sets people up for disappointment and depression when outcomes don’t match hopes. Personally speaking, even if my hopes and outlook were realistic and the outcomes were less than anticipated, I might be disappointed and maybe even depressed but realize it’s just more fun to be optimistic. Don’t you find you want to be around optimistic people? I do and I think I want to be one too.

  • jeris hollander

    It is remarkable how much our thoughts and perceptions structurally affect the brain. From the time that we are newborns, the neuroception of threat or safety begins shaping our perception of the world around us. When we perpetually feed into the threatened, fearful, and negative perceptions, we are engaging in negative neuroplasticity, diminishing the inherent optimism bias. It is easy to slide down the slippery slope of depression as we allow negative patterns to become more prominent and pervasive throughout our lives. It is interesting to imagine how much differently we would feel about our lives as adults if more of us were taught to nurture positive emotions and focus on our strengths from a young age. Cultivating and strengthening our positive emotions results in positive neuroplasticity, broadens our outlook, and helps us to successfully navigate difficult transitions, builds resilience, and deepens our optimism.

    This work has been profoundly transformational for me, not only on a personal level, but as a parent of young children. Everyone wants their children to grow up to be happy, resilient, and emotionally strong adults. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand how to cultivate this within themselves, and thereby are unable to teach these tools to their children. I have now begun to teach my kids the importance of recognizing, embracing, and leaning into positive emotions, as well being mindful and communicative of negative ones while not wallowing in them. In a short few months, I can already detect more resilience in them. I am so grateful for this work, as it has had an incredibly positive impact on my family as a whole.

    The value of learning to consistently lean into the optimism bias and away from the negativity bias is immeasurable. It is absolutely, positively life changing.

  • James

    The optimism bias of the brain is essential to not only our coaching clients, but also to the field of coaching and therefore to us as practitioners of this work—coaches. Why? The people-disciple of counseling focuses on the past and present; deals with crises and trauma; and counseling works with a counselee to restore them to emotional, physical, spiritual, or financial wholeness.

    The discipline of coaching focuses on the future, helping clients identify what goals they want to achieve, and facilitates a client’s movement from one stage of meaning-making to another. Counseling is about fixing a client’s problems; coaching is about evolving a client’s brain to feeling, thinking, and accomplishing more.

    This post is extremely important because it underscores the importance of what coaching is extremely good at empowering clients to do – focusing their brains on the future, focusing their brain on what they want, and focusing their brain on developing strategies to get where they are headed.

    Because the human brain is wired for positivity, when clients are whole, coaching is an exceptional way to move forward from one stage to another. Specifically, the work that the Applied Neuroscience Institute teaches encourages brain development by focusing on positive emotions and positive thoughts – this is at the crux of this important work – the foundation of where evolution is watered, grown, and the fruit reaped.

    The brain thrives on these positive neurochemicals of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. These chemicals lubricate the connections between neurons enable a client to experience new thoughts, new emotions, and ultimately new responses.

    What so many people don’t realize is that they are addicted to a concoction of negative neurochemicals that lead to neuropathic stagnation and regression – chemicals like adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. The freedom is this work is choice – we can choose what we addict ourselves to – the upward spiraling thoughts and feelings of positivity or the downward spiral of discouragement and depression.

    It’s time to make a choice. What will you choose?

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute