New neuroimaging research in Neuropsychologia has found some links between a person’s innate resilience to the struggles of life and functional connections within the brain.

“Psychological resilience plays an important role in determining whether or not an individual develops post-traumatic disorders after experiencing severe traumatic events. It is also important to improve healthy individuals’ mental health and well-being,” said study author Jiang Qiu of Southwest University in China.

“However, individuals differ in psychological resilience and the underlying neural mechanism is still unclear. So we wanted to explore some neural markers for psychological resilience and provide potential implications for both non-clinical and clinical populations.”

In the study, 212 healthy college students completed a measure of psychological resilience before undergoing resting-state fMRI brain scans. Those with higher levels of psychological resilience tended to have enhanced functional connectivity in brain networks associated with flexible emotional responses and inhibitory control.

In particular, the researchers found increased connectivity between the left insula and the right parahippocampal gyrus (PHG) and between the left orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) among those with higher resilience.

On the other hand, resilience was negatively related to connectivity between the OFC and the right precuneus, which has been implicated in rumination.

“Our study provides some neuroimaging evidence for the flexible processes underlying psychological resilience: it is closely associated with self-concept (reflected as strong left insula and right PHG connectivity), flexible emotional responses and flexible inhibitory control (reflected as strong left OFC-IFG connectivity),” Qiu told PsyPost.

“Higher self-acceptance and positive self-representation may be contribute to resilience. The flexible use of emotional resources to inhibit negative thoughts and broaden one’s attention may help people to recover from aversive events.”

The study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“Our study mainly investigated the association between brain functional connectivity and the individual differences in psychological resilience. There is no analysis of causality here. So we cannot determine which mental processes or brain activities lead to the change of resilience or vice versa. We can design some longitudinal study to explore the contributors and attributes to psychological resilience in future,” Qiu explained.

“The present study is only a preliminary study. More attention should be paid to the neural mechanism of resilience due to its importance. Maybe someday we can develop some neurofeedback training to improve one’s mental health and well-being.”

The study, “Recover from the adversity: Functional connectivity basis of psychological resilience“, was authored by Liang Shi, Jiangzhou Sun, Dongtao Wei, and Jiang Qiu.