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Space Tuesday, September 25th 2012 at 11:45 am

Magnetic Pulses to The Brain Bring People Down To Earth, Reduce Optimism

As a species, humans tend to be glass half-full, optimistic sorts of folks, actively seeking out good news while simultaneously ignoring things that upset or disagree with us. It can be a fun way to live sometimes and it’s definitely made a few of our days more relaxing, but the good news bias can work against us as well, detaching us from reality and leading us to make poor decisions. It turns out we may be able to take off those rose-colored glasses and think logically about things, though — and all it requires out of us is a quick shot of magnetic energy to the brain.

The bias towards optimism is known in scientific terms as forming beliefs asymmetrically. That means that when something that we see as beneficial for us happens — a pass we really, really want to see completed being ruled a touchdown, for example — we’re likely to see it as evidence and form beliefs around it. When we see something happening that we’d rather not deal with, though — say, the lifestyle we enjoy marinating the globe in poisonous gasses and turning the planet into an unlivable husk — we tend to view it as an aberration and discout its importance.

That line of reasoning, of course, can lead to some pretty questionable decisions, which is why scientists are hoping to conquer the human bias towards optimism. Making us feel worse about things is surprisingly difficult, though — it turns out the mechanisms that make us more Pollyannaish are rooted deep in the brain. Specifically, they’re rooted in the right and left interior frontal gyrus (IFG). Evidence suggests that the left IFG processes positive information, while the right IFG processes negative things — and does so much less efficiently than its happy sibling across the brain.

With this information in hand, brain researchers did the thing you can always count on brain researchers to do: They gave the brain a little jolt to see what would happen. For science, of course. While showing subjects both good and bad news, researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to deliver a brief pulse of magnetic energy to the left IFG, disrupting its function. Subjects who got the disruptive blast to the left IFG — but not the right — were more apt to pay attention to bad news and factor its consequences into later decisions.

The study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides more evidence that the left and right IFG house the optimism bias, and offer a starting point for helping us to overcome our prejudices to make better decisions. No rush or anything, science, but, uh, we could really use the assist here.

(via Medical Xpress)

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