The Resilient Brain: Psychological Resilience is an Active, Distinct Neurobiological Process

Author: Brenda Patoine

What makes one person more resilient to stress than another? How do some people seemingly take even extreme stress in stride while others succumb to depression or anxiety disorders when faced with trauma or tragedy? Could differences in brain structure or function explain it?

These questions have been asked by social scientists for decades, and a fairly comprehensive description has emerged of the kinds of emotional and behavioural characteristics that tend to describe a “stress-resilient” person–optimism, a strong social support system, an ability to find purpose in life, or a grounding in faith or spirituality, for example. A “glass-half-full” kind of person, in popular vernacular.

More recently, neuroscience has begun to tackle the question of what resilience looks like in the brain. The hope is that understanding the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to resilience in humans will lead to better-targeted, more potent interventions. While treatment breakthroughs have been elusive, recent work has begun to shed light on what makes a brain resilient.