Improving the neural mechanisms of cognition through the pursuit of happiness

Karuna Subramaniam, Sophia Vinogradov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This paper reviews evidence on the neural basis of how positive mood states can modulate cognition, particularly during creative problem-solving. Studies performed over the past few decades demonstrate that individuals in a positive mood engage in a broader scope of attention, enhancing their access to distant and unusual semantic associations, and increasing task-shifting and problem-solving capacities. In this review, we summarize these behavioral studies; we then present recent findings on the changes in brain activation patterns that are induced by a positive mood when participants engage in problem-solving tasks and show how these relate to task performance. Additionally, we integrate findings on the neuromodulatory influence of positive mood on cognition as mediated by dopaminergic signaling in the prefrontal cortex and we describe how this system can go awry during pathological states of elevated mood as in mania. Finally, we describe current and future research directions using psychotherapeutic and real-time fMRI neurofeedback approaches to up-regulate positive mood and facilitate optimal creative cognitive performance. We conclude with some speculations on the clinical implications of this emerging area of research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - Jul 22 2013


  • Creative cognition
  • FMRI
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Positive mood
  • Real-time fMRI


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