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Finding Optimism and Positive Moods : The Neuroscience. Part 2.

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mood and neuroscience

The beliefs that we hold about ourselves, others and the world in general, powerfully affect how we feel. Indeed, we have seen in previous articles published on this site how cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) takes advantage of this fact (click here to read one of my articles on CBT). Brain imaging techniques have shown that CBT has a direct effect upon the brain by activating the region known as the hippocampus (see picture below).

location of hippocampus and other brain regions

location of hippocampus and other brain regions

Learning positive thinking skills through therapies like CBT, when repeatedly practised. creates permanent, beneficial changes in the brain.

Neuroscience, Belief, The Placebo Effect and the Brain :

Just how powerful ‘mere’ beliefs can be is demonstrated very well by research that has been carried out on the placebo effect. One shocking finding is that about 80 -100% of the beneficial effect that people obtain by taking anti-depressants is due to the placebo effect (click here to read my article on this).

the power of belief : depression and the placebo effect

the power of belief : depression and the placebo effect

Believing we will get better, per se, then, makes it more likely that we will. Indeed, the power of belief/the placebo effect even makes it more likely that we will recover from physical illnesses (demonstrating again the powerful link between mind and body). Below, I provide statistics relating to the placebo effect upon physical illnesses (based on the findings of the psychological researcher Nieme, 2009) :

– CANCER – approximately 5% of tumours were reduced in size by the placebo effect

– IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS) – approximately 40 % improved as a result of the placebo effect

– DUODENAL ULCER – approximately 40% improved as a result of the placebo effect


1) People who are depressed often see things in ‘black or white’, or, to put it another way, think in terms of extremes. Instead of this, it is very helpful to replace such a thinking style with one that sees things in less extreme ways (more in ‘shades of grey’ rather than ‘black or white’)

2) Depression causes extreme pessimism and those who are severely depressed tend to vastly over-estimate probabilities of catastrophic outcomes. It is helpful to cultivate more optimistic thinking ; for example, rather than dwelling on a negative change in life circumstances, seeing the new situation as a challenge and one which can open new doors and avenues of personal development

3) Another very useful skill is learning to see one’s situation in a more  DETACHED manner, becoming, perhaps, like a kind of dispassionate observer of one’s own life – rather like watching a film ; distancing ourselves from events in this way can be very helpful.

4) It is also very helpful to EXTERNALIZE events more – this means not letting things lower one’s self-esteem when they go wrong, but rather to channel the energy that would have been wasted on castigating oneself into trying to constructively resolve the situation.

effects of negative thinking

effects of negative thinking

More information about overcoming negative thinking can be found by clicking here to read one of my previously published articles).

‘Brain cells that fire together, wire together’ :

The more we practise positive thinking, the more neural connections will be created to elevate our mood – likewise, the greater will be the rate at which neural connections that create low mood will wither away and die. This idea is summed up by the phrase, coined by neuroscientists, that ‘brain cells that fire together, wire together.’


Above eBooks now available on Amazon for immediate download.  CLICK HERE for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons;  MSc;  PGDE(FAHE).


About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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