Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Brain correlates of "the good life" ??

Lewis et al. offer another example of the class of experiments correlating the volume of a specific brain area with a specific behavior, in this case eudaimonic well-being, which is positively correlated with volume in the right insular cortex. Eudaimonia is fundamentally linked to notions of agency, and recent work has identified insular cortex as a source of agentic control. The insula has also been linked to facilitation of self-awareness, as well as to the regulation of bodily states and modulation of decision making based on interoceptive information about these bodily states.

Whether the behavior causes the larger insular volume or vice versa can’t be determined. These particular experiments did not control for simple subjective (hedonic) well-being, so the observed volume increase in the insula may not be a unique correlate of eudaimonia. Here is their abstract, and the entire text of the article is open source.
Eudaimonic well-being reflects traits concerned with personal growth, self-acceptance, purpose in life and autonomy (among others) and is a substantial predictor of life events, including health. Although interest in the aetiology of eudaimonic well-being has blossomed in recent years, little is known of the underlying neural substrates of this construct. To address this gap in our knowledge, here we examined whether regional gray matter (GM) volume was associated with eudaimonic well-being. Structural magnetic resonance images from 70 young, healthy adults who also completed Ryff’s 42-item measure of the six core facets of eudaimonia, were analysed with voxel-based morphometry techniques. We found that eudaimonic well-being was positively associated with right insular cortex GM volume. This association was also reflected in three of the sub-scales of eudaimonia: personal growth, positive relations and purpose in life. Positive relations also showed a significant association with left insula volume. No other significant associations were observed, although personal growth was marginally associated with left insula, and purpose in life exhibited a marginally significant negative association with middle temporal gyrus GM volume. These findings are the first to our knowledge linking eudaimonic well-being with regional brain structure.

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