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Positive psychiatry is rooted in biology, specifically neuroscience, genetics, and epigenetics, involving interactions among genes, environment, and structure and function of the brain involved in positive psychological traits including resilience, optimism, wisdom, self-efficacy, social engagement.[1]

It has began inspired by positive psychology.

Advances have been made in identifying brain circuits putatively involved in positive traits. Thus, successful coping with stress has been tied to adaptive changes in brain circuits regulating reward, fear, emotional reactivity, and social behavior.[2] Similarly, neurocircuitry of wisdom may involve the prefrontal cortex (especially dorsolateral, ventromedial, and anterior cingulate) and the limbic striatum—the newest and the oldest parts of the brain, respectively, from a phylogenetic or evolutionary perspective. This type of research has implications for developing biological interventions to enhance positive traits.

A number of studies have demonstrated that positive psychological traits are associated with improved mental and physical health and longevity. For example, optimism has been associated with significantly reduced risk of developing serious health conditions, including depression and cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms underlying these findings are unclear. Some investigations suggest that optimists tend to adhere to a healthier lifestyle. Health behaviors such as dieting, not smoking, exercising, practicing good dental hygiene, conducting breast self-exams, and even using seatbelts have been linked to one’s level of perceived self-efficacy. Some investigations have found that spirituality is associated with less risky health behaviors, improved depression in terminally ill AIDS patients, and decreased levels of cortisol. Resilience has been reported to be a significant predictor of longevity, particularly in older adults. People in their 90s who endorsed higher levels of resilience had a 43 percent higher likelihood of living up to 100 years compared with their peers with lower resilience. Finally, numerous articles show the buffering effect of social engagement on depressive symptoms, cardiovascular health, cancer recovery, and dementia. These relationships are likely to be bidirectional—for example, greater social engagement reduces the risk of severe depression, and vice versa.

There already has been some research on psychosocial treatments that sought to strengthen positive characteristics in individual subjects. A few interventions aiming to improve social engagement, while not specifically targeting depression, were reported to have antidepressant effects in older people. Management strategies buttressing resilience led to lower alcohol consumption in adolescents as well as older adults. One study demonstrated that increasing optimism resulted in increased adherence to pharmacotherapy in formerly pessimistic individuals. Studies of longer-term effects of meditation have reported reduced mortality rates in older adults at risk for negative cardiovascular outcomes, compared with control groups. Taken together, existing evidence suggests that the armamentarium of psychosocial/behavioral treatments should be expanded to include interventions focusing on enhancing positive psychosocial traits in people with mental or other kinds of medical illnesses.


  1. Dilip V. Jeste. Positive Psychiatry. Psychiatric News. Volume 47 Number 12 page 4-4. 2012.
  2. Palmer BW. A call for a new positive psychiatry of ageing. Br J Psychiatry. 2013 Feb;202:81-3.