Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Negative Information & Well-being

Our brain’s panic button, the amygdala, ignites the fight-or-flight stress response.  These almond shaped structures, one in each hemisphere (plural is amygdalae), evaluate our environment for potential threats.  And people have different sensitivity to their environments.  A study of 906 adults found that 31% were highly sensitive to environmental influences, while 40% exhibited medium sensitivity, and 29% were resilient.

To learn more about amygdala activation and well-being, researchers collected psychological well-being, mood, and fMRI brain scan data from 52 adult participants (67% female).  During the brain scans, participants were shown negative and positive images, followed by images of a human face with a neutral facial expression.  Participants with less persistent activation of the left amygdala reported more positive moods than those with more persistent amygdala activation.  This longitudinal study showed that less amygdala persistence following exposure to negative images predicted more positive daily moods, but also predicted greater psychological well-being 7 years later. 

Takeaway:  Factors that can impact our short-term mood and our long-term psychological well-being include the degree of environmental sensitivity we exhibit and the extent our left amygdala remains activated after exposure to negative information.  You may want to assess your environmental sensitivity level, and how much time you spend in fight-or-flight activation due to exposure to negative information.  Then evaluate whether you can empower your rest-and-digest recovery system with self-care activities such as adequate sleep, time in nature, and less screen time.

Sources

Debra S. Austin, Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die from Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loy. L. Rev. 791, 819-820, (2013), online at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2227155.

Debra S. Austin, Windmills of Your Mind: Understanding the Neurobiology of Emotion, 54 Wake Forest L. Rev. 931, 943 (2019), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3374006

Nikki A. Puccetti, et al., Linking Amygdala Persistence to Real-World Emotional Experience and Psychological Well-being, Journal of Neuroscience, March 22, 2021, https://www.jneurosci.org/content/early/2021/03/15/JNEUROSCI.1637-20.2021.

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