We all respond differently to life-changing situations. Our research is dedicated to understanding why these differences exist, including the environmental, psychological and behavioural factors that contribute to resilience in a person.

Resilience defines the process that enables people to cope and positively adapt in the face of stress or misfortune, and enables them to better handle adversity or rebuild their lives after a catastrophe.

Being resilient does not mean a person has not experienced difficulty or distress or only remaining positive in the most dire of situations. Rather, resilient people are able to use their skills and strengths to cope and recover from problems or challenges, such as job loss, financial problems, illness, natural disasters or the death of a loved one.

There are several factors that are associated with resilience, including:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
  • Skills in communication and problem solving
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses
  • A feeling that you are a master of your environment and in control
  • A general positive outlook on your life and satisfaction with everything you have achieved

Importantly, these are skills that people can learn and develop for themselves. 

Our research approaches

Our research focuses on identifying what characterises brain mechanisms that underlie resilience. We are also looking at how genetics and environment influence resilience.

Our aim is to better understand resilience through long-term testing of a large cohort of Australian adult twins. Resilience testing in other population samples, including young adults and adolescents, will also help us to gain a more complete picture.

To measure brain function, we use techniques including neurocognitive performance tests and tests conducted during a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI).

Our research discoveries

NeuRA has developed the COMPAS-W Wellbeing Scale, a 26-item questionnaire that measures both subjective and psychological wellbeing. We plan to use this in our research to assess levels of flourishing and resilience amid trauma and stress.

Initial research suggests that both our genetics and environment are equally important in determining levels of mental health and optimal functioning.

We have started to identify mechanisms in the brain that could indicate resilience. This includes variation in the size of specific brain regions and how they respond to different emotional stimuli.

NeuRA has also discovered variations in specific cognitive functions and protective genetic variants through a study on 1,600 identical and non-identical twins. We hope this will shed light on how to predict resilience to stress and improve mental health outcomes for our population in future. 

Finally, we are exploring the potential genetic mechanisms in psychiatric disorders and started to find potential variants to target.