Research Highlights - November 2018

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If you feel anxious prior to a big presentation or starting a new job, studies suggest that you can learn how to be more resilient and to manage your stress and anxiety.  Researchers at the University of Illinois recently examined a sample of 85 healthy college students to see how a number of personality traits protect an individual’s brain against symptoms of emotional distress, including depression and anxiety.

The new study, published in the journal Personality Neuroscience,was designed to look at commonalities across brain regions and across personality traits that contribute to protective factors. The researchers targeted a number of regions in the prefrontal cortex, looking specifically at the volume of those regions using structural magnetic resonance imaging.  They did a confirmatory factor analysis, which is a statistical approach for testing whether there is a common factor underlying observed measurements.”

In order to examine resiliency in young adults, previous research has looked at the relationship between specific brain regions and certain personality traits, such as optimism, positive affect, and cognitive reappraisal, all of which factor into how an individual cope with emotional challenges.

The researchers knew from the clinical literature that there are relationships between brain volume and certain personality traits.  Lower brain volume in certain areas is associated with increased anxiety.

Combined with questionnaires that identified the personality traits, the structural information about the prefrontal cortical regions provided evidence that there are common factors in brain structure and personality, which enable adaptive behavior in order to avoid negative emotions.

Using a statistical model, the researchers extracted paired factors, one at the brain level, one at the personality level, and found that if someone has a larger volume in a certain set of brain regions, they had higher levels of certain protective personality traits.

The researchers are interested in identifying these brain regions along with related personality traits in order to create ways for individuals to learn how to combat anxiety and depression. The objective is better cognitive behavioral...

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