In this paper, we provide a review of the latest research on behavioral and cognitive strategies that cultivate resilience and change the brain. We begin with a primer on the neuroscience of emotions and stress and how the brain regulates them. Then we focus on two major pathways to building a resilient brain:

  • behavioral pathways (learnable behaviors and habits) and
  • cognitive pathways (learnable cognitive/linguistic strategies).

For the former, we review behaviors that can directly down-regulate fear and stress, including facing fears and controlling stressors. We also review behaviors that can boost physical health and therefore resilience; these strategies include sleeping, exercising, and dietary restriction. In addition, we review social behaviors that can boost resilience, such as connecting socially and expressing gratitude. For the latter, we review cognitive pathways to resilience. These include emotion-regulation strategies such as verbal expression of emotion, affect labeling, and cognitive reappraisal.

We also discuss cognitive-training approaches, including cognitive-bias modification, mindfulness training, and cognitive therapy. Finally, we discuss issues related to coaching resilience, including the neural bases of expectation, growth mind-set, and self-affirmation, three factors that can influence learning and effectiveness of the various strategies discussed in the article, and we close with a summary of the current understanding of resilience and the human brain.

Sign up to access paper:


Dr Golnaz Tabibnia

Affective Neuroscientist, UCLA

Dr Dan Radecki

Co-founder & Neuroscientist, ABL

Return to top