Optimism and the brain: trait optimism mediates the protective role of the orbitofrontal cortex gray matter volume against anxiety

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Abstract

Converging evidence identifies trait optimism and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) as personality and brain factors influencing anxiety, but the nature of their relationships remains unclear. Here, the mechanisms underlying the protective role of trait optimism and of increased OFC volume against symptoms of anxiety were investigated in 61 healthy subjects, who completed measures of trait optimism and anxiety, and underwent structural scanning using magnetic resonance imaging. First, the OFC gray matter volume (GMV) was associated with increased optimism, which in turn was associated with reduced anxiety. Second, trait optimism mediated the relation between the left OFC volume and anxiety, thus demonstrating that increased GMV in this brain region protects against symptoms of anxiety through increased optimism. These results provide novel evidence about the brain–personality mechanisms protecting against anxiety symptoms in healthy functioning, and identify potential targets for preventive and therapeutic interventions aimed at reducing susceptibility and increasing resilience against emotional disturbances.

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