Functional magnetic resonance imaging correlates of wellbeing and resilience in healthy twins

Every aspect of our lives influences our state of wellbeing and in turn, our wellbeing greatly affects our lives and long-term health. Several studies have shown that wellbeing predicts increased longevity and healthy aging, resistance to infection, reduced risk for illness and mortality, personal growth and even learning. More recently, mental wellbeing has been positively associated with sustained attention, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, motor coordination and working memory. Additionally, major mental illnesses are usually associated with emotional and cognitive dysfunction, and neural networks involved in threat, reward, attention and cognitive control underscore some of the main processes of emotional and cognitive function. These networks are therefore likely to be central to mental wellbeing and resilience to stress. Although the link between wellbeing and health has been fairly well documented, knowledge of the neural mechanisms that underpin wellbeing and resilience are still lacking. Investigating the neuroscience of wellbeing is crucial to capture and promote mental and physical health in the general population.

Using the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technique, the main objectives of this project are: 

(1). To understand how the neural networks and autonomic responses that underpin emotional responses (e.g., to threat and reward) and cognitive control (e.g., working memory and inhibition) are associated with varying levels of wellbeing, resilience, emotional health status and other life outcomes; 

(2). Whether change in neural networks predict change in wellbeing and resilience over time (longitudinal component); and 

(3). To investigate how different genetic and environment factors may modulate these neural networks.

This PhD project will extend our understanding of wellbeing and its relationship with emotional processes and cognitive function. The results from this project will be valuable and robust as it will be based on a large sample of 270 twin participants scanned over time. Research on wellbeing and resilience has major implications for mental and physical health on the general population, and we hope that this project will greatly contribute to the advancement of mental health research.