Repository logo

The “Resilient Brain”: Challenging key characteristics associated with the concept of resilience

Accepted version



Change log


Savulich, George 
Lim, Tsen Vei 
Ferry-Bolder1, Eve 
Mak, Elijah 


Resilience is a psychological construct broadly defined as positive adaptation in response to adversity (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2013). Resilient people do not despair or distract themselves from difficulties, but instead face them head-on. What makes some individuals more resilient than others is thought to rely on psychological mechanisms such as abilities to cognitively and emotionally cope with negative emotions. The corpus callosum provides interhemispheric connections, specifically to cognitive pathways, which allow for faster processing and reflection and has been identified as a key neural substrate of resilience (Edwards, Sherr, Barkovich, & Richards, 2014; Etkin, Egner, & Kalisch, 2011). Galinowski et al. (2015) have shown greater anatomical connectivity within the anterior body of the corpus callosum in resilient adolescents with high exposure to lifetime stress compared with non-resilient adolescents exposed to the same level of stress and healthy control adolescents from the same community. Converging neuroimaging evidence has further shown reduced volume of the corpus callosum in stress-related and major psychiatric disorders such as depression and treatment-resistant schizophrenia (Sun, Maller, Daskalakis, Furtado, & Fitzgerald, 2009). These studies highlight an association between resilience and structural integrity of the corpus callosum, with particular emphasis on the cognitive resources it subserves (Galinowski et al., 2015). Other characteristics typically used in the conceptualization of resilience are extraversion, openness to experience, self-efficacy and agreeability (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2013; Galinowski et al., 2015). However, protective factors are largely built on the assumption that resilient individuals actively work through the problems they face (Luthar, 2006; Luthar & Cicchetti, 2000; Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). Here, we call into question this widely held assertion by presenting a case of a fully functioning middle-aged man, T.C., who is not only unaware of his congenital absence of the corpus callosum, but also refutes key traits that are commonly associated with the concept of resilience.



MRI, brain reserve, coping, corpus callosum, emotion regulation, self-control, self-efficacy

Journal Title

Psychological Medicine

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Cambridge University Press
Medical Research Council (MR/J012084/1)
The study was funded by a grant from the Medical Research Council (MR/J012084/1) and financially supported by the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre. T. V. L. was a recipient of the Angharad Dodds John Bursary in Mental Health and Neuropsychiatry. E. M. was supported by an Alzheimer’s Society Junior Research Fellowship (443 AS JF 18017). K. D. E. is the recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Fellowship (Grant No. GBR 1202805 HFST-E).