BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Dr John Gabrieli
"We don't know if it's genetic"
 real 28k

Monday, 5 February, 2001, 10:56 GMT
Brain scans spot 'happy thoughts'
brain scan graphic
Brain scans could reveal whether you are pessimistic
Visible changes in the way the brain works give clues to physical differences between optimists and pessimists, scientists find.

There are many people who react to the same scene in an entirely different way - some negative, and some positive.

The brain responsiveness to the scenes very much depended on the personality of these individuals

Dr John Gabrieli
However, a study carried out at Stanford University in the US claims to be able to differentiate the happy-go-lucky types from those with a more cynical slant on life.

The researchers looked at a group of women aged between 19 and 42.

These had been split into two types by a questionnaire - optimists or extroverts, and those who were more anxious or neurotic.

Both of these types were then shown pictures of "happy" scenes, such as birthday parties, and those with a grimmer connotation, such as hospital wards.

Grim picture

While this was going on, brain scans were taken to measure the activity in various parts of the brain.

The team found that the "optimists" responded far more strongly to the "happy" pictures than the "anxious" group.

The reverse was also true: there was far more brain activity in the anxious types when they were viewing the "unhappy" pictures.

Dr John Gabrieli, who led the study, said: "The brain responsiveness to the scenes very much depended on the personality of these individuals."

Of course, the study did not reveal whether the lack of brain activity was the root cause of the pessimism, or whether it was simply a symptom of some other physical change.

But Dr Gabrieli suggested that the extra knowledge of the "brain's architecture" could prove useful in treating conditions such as depression.

He said: "We don't know to what extent this involves genetics or pre-disposition, or a learned response."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

07 Aug 00 | Health
Scans uncover 'music of the mind'
05 Jul 00 | Health
How the brain registers love
14 Apr 00 | Health
Gene theory on eating disorders
04 Feb 00 | Health
Brain size linked to violence
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories