According to scientist Tali Sharot our brain is prewired for optimism. Hard to believe with the negativity and rampant depression surrounding us of late but experts have proven that the human brain tends to look on the bright side more often that you may think.
Examples of this are our tendencies to buy lotto tickets, to go without health insurance to expect our marriages to succeed when marriage has a 1 in 2 success rate!
Optimism starts with our ability to think about the past and future and the part of the brain responsible for this is the hippocampus, the part of the brain crucial to memory. Individuals who have suffered damage to their hippocampus will not be able to recall the past nor create future plans or suppositions. When we think of the future we tend to imagine the future scenario to be positive, we generally won’t contemplate the negative outcome unless we suffer from depression or we have a phobia which will always point us towards the worst outcome..
Even if we are naturally optimistic the important question we want answered is “Can optimism change reality?”
Further research was carried out by neuroscientist Sara Bengtsson, where she manipulated positive and negative expectation of students while their brains were scanned and tested on cognitive tasks. She induced expectations of success in some and failure in others. As expected the students performed better after being primed with the expectations of success, but while examining the students brains while they were being tested she found that the students brains responded differently to the mistakes they made depending on their expectations of success or failure.
Those who expected success had enhanced activity in the region of the brain involved in self-reflection and recollection; however those who weren’t expecting to succeed had no activity after a wrong answer. When expecting to do poorly they weren’t surprised when they did make a mistake. The brain that doesn’t expect good results does not get a message telling it you did wrong, therefore is less likely to learn from mistakes and improve over time. In this way expectations become self-fulfilling, if we chose to learn from our mistakes we may change our performance and actions and ultimately effect what happens in the future.
As Henry Ford put it “If you think you can or think you can’t you are probably right”
Further to this proof that we can change our reality by simply being optimistic, statistics say that optimists tend to be more successful, happier and healthier so there may not be any harm in thinking positively, even when the odds are stacked against us!