Scientists Discover that Hope Protects the Brain

As we learn more about the human body, we are forever fascinated by its ability to heal itself. There are countless bodily functions where our body’s defenses rise up and attack things that threaten our health. And this article is yet another example of how this happens. But this one is something that virtually all of us could do to protect our brains.

Amazing Study that Lowers Anxiety

In recent studies, Chinese psychologists have discovered that having hope serves to protect our brain against things like anxiety and this has most definitely expanded current understandings of exactly how it could be happening. Since hope is often viewed as a stable personality attribute, they ascertained, this may be able to find out the exact place inside the brain where they will find hope actually functioning. They were not only able to pinpoint the point where hope may reside inside the brain, but then realized just how hope could be actually shielding the brain from the damaging effects of anxiety.

The researchers considered hope to be a very important topic in positive psychology, as they referred to someone’s “goal oriented expectations” which includes both agency (the desire to accomplish goals) and pathways (discovering the ways to achieve them).

The scientists utilized MRI imaging on some 231 high school students that came from Chengdu, China. They were tested in accordance with questionnaires that used the DHS hope scale and also the popular Stait-Trait Anxiety test.

Discovered the Actual Spot in the Brain that was Affected

The researchers evaluated the data by using the fractional amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (fALFF) method. They learned that the existence of this hope trait was connected to lower fALFF readings within the bilateral medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) region of the brain. This is the area that is involved in the reward related procession, the generation of motivation, problem solving and goal setting behavior, these scientists have reported.  

The orbitofrontal cortex resides a little beyond the orbits of the eyes and reaches back a few centimeters inside the brain’s frontal base. The researchers learned that this hope trait operates as a “mediator” between anxiety and mOFC activity. 

“Overall, this study provides the first evidence for functional brain substrates underlying trait hope and reveals a potential mechanism that trait hope mediates the protective role of spontaneous brain activity against anxiety,” reported the scientists. 

This is actually the very first evidence that hope could have a specific physical space inside the brain, but the link between anxiety and hope had been previously established through a number of prior studies. A University of Kansas study performed in year 2002, which was led by C.R. Snyder, examined the role that hope usually plays for students. The scientists discovered that the students who were low in hope experience much more anxiety, many of which came from setting goals which proved to be way too overwhelming and difficult to achieve.

Then there was a 2011 study that took place in Malaysia where scientists from Hong Kong showed the connection between having higher levels of hope meant reduced levels of depression and anxiety in patients suffering from cancer. It still is not entirely whether the hope causes less anxiety or those with less anxiety were simply more hopeful. 

Now we have this recent 2017 study which included scientists from Sichuan University, the Southwest University for Nationalities, as well as the Chengdu Mental Health Center located in Chengdu, China.