If you’re happy and you know it: Neural correlates of self-evaluated well-being

Description: Manuscript abstract: What does it mean to be well? Prior research suggests that the answer to this question includes more than just the absence of illness or disease, and that a more complete picture of psychological health is also defined in terms of the “good life,” or well-being. Amid continued debate as to what constitutes the good life, one point of relative agreement is that a person’s psychological health is contingent on their own subjective evaluation. The goal of the current study was to further our understanding of positive psychological functioning by investigating the neural correlates of self-evaluated well-being. A sample of 113 incoming college freshmen completed an fMRI task in which they evaluated a series of words and phrases related to three constructs associated with psychological health–well-being, ill-being, and social connectedness–in terms of the self-descriptiveness of those items and their perceived malleability. Behaviorally, well-being and social connectedness items were more likely to be endorsed as self-descriptive than ill-being items, and social items were perceived to be more malleable than items related to well-being and ill-being. Neurally, there was increased activity in the default mode network during self-evaluation compared to the control condition, consistent with preregistered hypotheses. Exploratory analyses revealed strong spatial overlap in neural representations among constructs, though patterns of activity in a priori regions of interest–perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and ventral striatum–exhibited low similarity among constructs. Furthermore, we found that these neural predictors explained additional variance in trial-level evaluations of psychological health, but not in individual differences in psychological health when aggregating across trials. Specifically, multilevel logistic regression models revealed a significant interaction between psychological health construct and vmPFC, such that greater vmPFC activity increased the likelihood of endorsing items as self-descriptive, but only for items related to ill-being. Together, the results of this study suggest that examining neural activity during self-evaluation may advance our understanding of well-being and related constructs beyond traditional methods of inquiry that rely exclusively on self-report questionnaires.

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Add DateMarch 23, 2019, 1:18 a.m.
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