Reacting to Personal Setbacks: Do You Bounce Back or Give Up?

Posted on September 6, 2014

Photo: flickr

Sometimes when people get upsetting news – such as a failing exam grade or a negative job review – they decide instantly to do better the next time. In other situations that are equally disappointing, the same people may feel inclined to just give up.

How can similar setbacks produce such different reactions? It may come down to how much control we feel we have over what happened, according to new research from Rutgers University-Newark. The study, published in the journal Neuron, also finds that when these setbacks occur, the level of control we perceive may even determine which of two distinct parts of the brain will handle the crisis.

"Think of the student who failed an exam," says Jamil Bhanji, a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers and one of the study's co-authors. "They might feel they wouldn't have failed if they had studied harder, studied differently – something under their control." That student, Bhanji says, resolves to try new study habits and work hard toward acing the next exam. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) used in the study showed activity in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum – which has been shown to guide goals based on prior experiences.

A different student might have failed the same test, but believes it happened because the questions were unfair or the professor was mean, things that he could not control. The negative emotions produced by this uncontrollable setback may cause the student to drop the course.

Overcoming those negative emotions and refocusing on doing well in the class may require a more complicated thought process. In cases like this, fMRI revealed that activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), a part of the brain that regulates emotions in more flexible ways, is necessary to promote persistence.

Mauricio Delgado, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers' Newark College of Arts and Sciences and the study’s other co-author, says people whose jobs include delivering bad news should pay attention to these results, because their actions might influence how the news is received.

To read the full article, please click on the link below.


Category(s):Happiness, Self-Confidence, Self-Esteem, Self-Love

Source material from Newswise


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