Building a More Resilient Brain

Managing editor Sandra Upson introduces the July/August 2013 issue of Scientific American MIND


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What does it mean to be resilient? As our art director Patti Nemoto put it, “It's kind of like being Gumby.” The green clay character bounces back from any setback—becoming stranded on the moon, getting turned into a robot, dissolving into a puddle. In the U.S. Marine Corps, where flexibility in changing circumstances can be lifesaving, a common saying is “Semper Gumby.”

Adaptability in the face of challenges predicts success across many pursuits. As psychologists Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney write in our cover story, “Enhance Your Resilience,” taming our emotions, exercising regularly and strengthening our social ties can help us shake off misfortune.

Recovery is not always under our conscious control, of course. Among the most common and lethal medical events is stroke, suffered by nearly one million Americans every year. Journalist Stephani Sutherland describes how an observation in the lab has excited researchers hunting for treatments: simply wiggling a rat's whisker in the moments after a stroke saved the rodent's brain from damage. Scientists are now seeking the human equivalent of tickling a whisker, such as caressing the lips or fingertips. See “Can Caresses Protect the Brain from Stroke?”.

Sometimes health threats are subtle, chipping away at well-being over decades. Take boredom. We have all experienced tedium, but chronic boredom has serious consequences: increased risk of cardiac events, higher rates of depression and shorter lives. In “Chronic Boredom May Be a Sign of Poor Health,” psychologist James Danckert posits that boredom may emerge from an errant sense of what is new versus old and familiar.

Speaking of novelty, you can now read this magazine on the iPad. Subscribe by visiting or check out our free issue by going to the Apple App Store on your iPad. And in March we launched a new home page and blog network at As they say, Semper Gumby.

This article was originally published with the title "The Resilient Brain."

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