Researchers have found that activity in the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) following exposure to negative and neutral stimuli may be linked to personal wellbeing.
The amygdala is key for our fight or flight response, or detecting potential threats in our environments and adapting our behavior to survive them. Once activated, however, it can stay attentive for some time- even if there are no immediate threats.
While this extra alertness may be helpful in dangerous situations (such as being chased by a lion), in everyday life, it can cause unnecessary stress and hassle. For example, this process means that if you've missed the train to work or received a faulty link for an important Zoom call, you may be on edge unnecessarily for the rest of the day.
Of course, the effects of such situations vary between individuals- some may be more or less affected by abrupt inconveniencies or negativities. As such, in the present study, the researchers set out to find how factors of subjective personal wellbeing might influence one's response to short-lasting negative stimuli.
To do so, they analyzed data from 52 adults in the 'Midlife in the US' longitudinal study. Participants completed a survey assessing their psychological wellbeing, as well as eight daily telephone interviews to assess their mood. They also underwent an fMRI scan during which they viewed negative, positive, and neutral images followed by images of a neutral facial expression.
All in all, the researchers found that participants whose left amygdala was consistently activated between negative and neutral images were more likely to have a negative mood on a daily basis alongside reduced positive feelings. Meanwhile, those who had less persistent activity in their left amygdala reported more frequent positive feelings and less frequent negative feelings in their daily life. The incidence of these daily positive feelings went on to predict greater psychological wellbeing seven years later.
While the researchers say that their study shows day-to-day positive experiences are linked to subjective judgments of personal wellbeing, the study is not without limitations. The small sample size, for example, means that further research may be necessary before any findings can be taken conclusively.