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Age Differences in Brain Activity during Emotion Processing: Reflections of Age-Related Decline or Increased Emotion Regulation?


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Despite the fact that physical health and cognitive abilities decline with aging, the ability to regulate emotion remains stable and in some aspects improves across the adult life span. Older adults also show a positivity effect in their attention and memory, with diminished processing of negative stimuli relative to positive stimuli compared with younger adults. The current paper reviews functional magnetic resonance imaging studies investigating age-related differences in emotional processing and discusses how this evidence relates to two opposing theoretical accounts of older adults' positivity effect. The aging-brain model [Cacioppo et al. in: Social Neuroscience: Toward Understanding the Underpinnings of the Social Mind. New York, Oxford University Press, 2011] proposes that older adults' positivity effect is a consequence of age-related decline in the amygdala, whereas the cognitive control hypothesis [Kryla-Lighthall and Mather in: Handbook of Theories of Aging, ed 2. New York, Springer, 2009; Mather and Carstensen: Trends Cogn Sci 2005;9:496-502; Mather and Knight: Psychol Aging 2005;20:554-570] argues that the positivity effect is a result of older adults' greater focus on regulating emotion. Based on evidence for structural and functional preservation of the amygdala in older adults and findings that older adults show greater prefrontal cortex activity than younger adults while engaging in emotion-processing tasks, we argue that the cognitive control hypothesis is a more likely explanation for older adults' positivity effect than the aging-brain model.
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Behavioural Science Section / Viewpoint
Gerontology 2012;58:156–163
DOI: 10.1159/000328465
Age Differences in Brain Activity during Emotion
Processing: Reflections of Age-Related Decline or
Increased Emotion Regulation?
Kaoru Nashiro Michiko Sakaki Mara Mather
Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Calif. , USA
cortex activity than younger adults while engaging in emo-
tion-processing tasks, we argue that the cognitive control
hypothesis is a more likely explanation for older adults’ pos-
itivity effect than the aging-brain model.
Copyr ight © 2011 S. K arger AG, Basel
In contrast with the age-related declines in many do-
mains of cognitive functioning
[1] , emotion regulation
functioning improves somewhat with age
[2] . People ex-
perience less negative affect as they get older and can re-
store their good mood after being induced into a negative
mood more effectively than younger adults
[3] . Older
adults also show a ‘positivity effect’ in attention and
[4] . For instance, older adults sometimes spend
a larger proportion of time viewing positive items and a
smaller proportion viewing negative items than do
younger adults
[5, 6] . Moreover, in some studies, com-
pared with younger adults, less of what older adults re-
member is negative and more is positive
[5, 7, 8] . Such age
by valence interactions tend to have a medium effect size
[8] ; thus, as might be expected, studies with relatively
small participant groups do not always reveal significant
age differences. Other factors, such as a level of arousal of
[9] , availability of cognitive resources [6] or types
of mea surement s acro ss studies
[10] , may also account for
the presence or absence of a positivity effect.
Why do older adults show some improvements in
emotion regulation despite suffering age-related cogni-
Key Words
Emotion Aging Functional magnetic resonance
imaging Positivity effect Amygdala Prefrontal cortex
Despite the fact that physical health and cognitive abilities
decline with aging, the ability to regulate emotion remains
stable and in some aspects improves across the adult life
span. Older adults also show a positivity effect in their atten-
tion and memory, with diminished processing of negative
stimuli relative to positive stimuli compared with younger
adults. The current paper reviews functional magnetic reso-
nance imaging studies investigating age-related differences
in emotional processing and discusses how this evidence re-
lates to two opposing theoretical accounts of older adults’
positivity effect. The aging-brain model [Cacioppo et al. in:
Social Neuroscience: Toward Understanding the Underpin-
nings of the Social Mind. New York, Oxford University Press,
2011] proposes that older adults’ positivity effect is a conse-
quence of age-related decline in the amygdala, whereas the
cognitive control hypothesis [Kryla-Lighthall and Mather in:
Handbook of Theories of Aging, ed 2. New York, Springer,
2009; Mather and Carstensen: Trends Cogn Sci 2005;
9: 496
502; Mather and Knight: Psychol Aging 2005; 20: 554–570] ar-
gues that the positivity effec t is a result of older adults’ great-
er focus on regulating emotion. Based on evidence for struc-
tural and functional preservation of the amygdala in older
adults and findings that older adults show greater prefrontal
Recei ved: January 11, 2011
Accepted: April 11, 2011
Publish ed online: June 21, 2011
Kaoru Na shiro
Davis School of Gerontology, Universit y of Southern Cal ifornia
3715 McCli ntock Avenue
Los A ngeles, CA 90089-0191 (USA)
Tel. +1 213 740 9401, E-Mai l nashiro
© 2011 S. Karger AG, Basel
0304–324X/12/0582–0156$38.0 0/0
Accessible online at:
Age Differences in Brain Activity during
Emotion Processing
Gerontology 2012;58:156–163
tive decline? One possibility is that age-related decline in
brain regions that monitor negative, potentially threaten-
ing information reduces negative affect. This is the argu-
ment made by Cacioppo et al.
[11] with their aging-brain
model which proposes that age-related decline in the
amygdala leads to the positivity effect. This argument is
based on the observation that patients with amygdala le-
sions are worse at rating the arousal or intensity of nega-
tive stimuli, but not of positive stimuli
[12, 13] . Cacioppo
et al.
[11] propose that age-related decline in the amyg-
dala selectively diminishes emotional arousal in response
to negative stimuli (but not positive stimuli) and, as a re-
sult, older adults fail to get the memorial advantage of
high arousal associated with negative stimuli and experi-
ence less negative affect.
A different possibility is that age-related diminish-
ment of negative affect occurs because older adults are
more focused on regulating emotion in their everyday
lives. Previous research suggests that older adults are
more likely than younger adults to prioritize emotion
regulatory goals over other goals
[14] , and to regulate
emotion when induced into a negative mood
[15] . Effec-
tive emotion regulation requires self-directed attention
and memory. For instance, attention should avoid nega-
tive information that could impair one’s mood and mem-
ory processes should be directed to increase the preva-
lence of positive mood-enhancing thoughts. Being guid-
ed by emotion regulation goals rather than by currently
salient stimuli requires the types of cognitive control pro-
cesses implemented by the prefrontal cortex (PFC)
[16] .
Based on this line of reasoning, the cognitive control
[3, 4, 7] argues that older adults’ positivity effect is
due to their greater focus on regulating emotions and re-
quires cognitive control processes. This idea is consistent
with behavioral evidence suggesting that the positivity
effect emerges especially when older adults have enough
cognitive resources, and when this effort is not readily
available, they show no positivity effect
[6, 17, 18] . Fur-
thermore, the positivity ef fect is most robust for items low
in a rous al , a s low ar ousi ng item s a re mor e l ik el y to engag e
cognitive control processes whereas high arousing items
require relatively automatic processes
[9] .
In this paper, we review recent functional magnetic
resonance imaging (f MRI) studies of age differences in
emotional processing and discuss how they relate to these
two opposing theoretical accounts of older adults’ posi-
tivity effect. The aging-brain and cognitive-control mod-
els make different predictions about how aging should
affect brain activity during emotion processing. The ag-
ing-brain model argues that age-related functional de-
cline in the amygdala causes the positivity effect, where-
as the cognitive control model assumes that prefrontal
regulation of emotional processing causes the positivity
Structural Preservation of the Amygdala in Aging
Imaging studies indicate that there is less volumetric
decline with age in the amygdala than in most other brain
[19, 20] and postmortem measurements based on
histological staining reveal no significant effect of age on
amygdala volume
[21] . Thus, contrary to the aging-brain
model, older adults do not appear to suffer from focal
damage in the amygdala and patients with amygdala
damage are unlikely to be a useful neuropsychological
model of the effects of aging.
Consistent with the structural preservation of the
amygdala, emotional processing is well preserved in nor-
mal aging. Previous research suggests that the ability to
detect emotionally arousing stimuli is relatively stable
with age
[22] , and that the effects of emotional arousal on
memory remain intact in normal aging
[23] . Further-
more, younger and older adults produce similar skin con-
ductance responses to emotionally arousing stimuli
24] .
Functional Neuroimaging Comparisons of Younger
and Older Adults’ Amygdala Activity
Despite structural preservation of the amygdala in nor-
mal aging, fMRI studies have revealed some age differ-
ences in amygdala activity. The difference seen most con-
sistently across studies is an age-related decrease in activa-
tion i n response to negative sti mul i
[25–28] . This decrease
in amygda la ac tivity in res pon se to n ega tive s ti mul i is pre-
dicted by both theoretical perspectives. The aging-brain
model predicts that age-related amygdala decline reduces
amygda la responsivity to emotionally arousing stimuli. In
contrast, the cognitive-control model predicts that pre-
frontal emotion regulation processes diminish amygdala
responses to negative but not positive stimuli. Therefore,
age-related decreases in amygdala activity when viewing
negative stimuli are not due to inherent amygdala impair-
ments. Although both explanations are plausible, prior
studies provide more evidence for the cognitive control
model. Below, we first describe results consistent with the
cognitive control model, followed by results contradicting
the aging-brain model’s assumptions.
Gerontology 2012;58:156–163
In line with the cognitive-control model, past studies
revealed a link between diminished amygdala activity to
negative stimuli and emotion regulation skills. In one
study of participants between 30 and 54 years of age, but
not younger adults, reduced amygdala activity to negative
stimuli was associated with a trait tendency to use an ef-
fective emotion regulation strategy (i.e. reappraisal)
[25] .
That is, higher reappraisal tendency predicted lower
amygdala activation while viewing negative stimuli than
during neutral ones. Furthermore, in another study, old-
er adults who showed a lower amygdala signal to negative
stimuli showed more effective regulation of diurnal cor-
tisol levels in the week following the scan
[29] . Although
these are correlational results, they suggest that older
adults’ reduced amygdala response to negative stimuli
does not reflect impaired amygdala function, but instead
emotion regulation efforts.
Furthermore, research on Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
provides a counterpoint to the aging-brain models as-
sumption that decreased amygdala activity is a sign of
age-related decline in the amygdala. The amygdala is one
of the brain regions typically most affected by AD
[30] . A
study comparing amygdala responses in younger, older,
and AD patients while viewing familiar neutral and nov-
el fearfu l human faces revea led that the AD g roup showed
significantly greater amygdala responses to both types of
faces relative to elderly controls
[31] . Importantly, greater
hyperactivity was associated with greater severity of ir-
ritability and agitation symptoms in AD. The results sug-
gest that disease-related amygdala decline leads to hyper-
a ct i ve a m yg d al a re s po n se s . Th e re fo r e, t h is r ed uc e d am y g-
dala response to negative stimuli seen among healthy
older adults is not a symptom of early AD.
In addition, contrary to the aging-brain model’s as-
sumption that the amygdala declines with age, there is
evidence that the amygdalas function is preserved in
healthy older adults
[32] . First, in two studies that includ-
ed both positive and negative pictures, age-related de-
creases in amygdala activity were seen for negative but
not positive pictures
[25, 26] . Thus, even in older adults
who showed reduced amygdala activity to negative stim-
uli, their amygdala can still be activated by a certain type
of emotional stimuli. Second, the amygdala in older
adults is sometimes activated even by negative stimuli. In
one study
[33] , for example, both younger and older adults
showed enhanced amygdala activity to negative photo-
graphs compared to neutral photographs. Importantly,
the amygdala activation in older adults involved overlap-
ping areas with younger adults, suggesting that older
adults depend on the same amygdala regions to process
negative stimuli as younger adults. Furthermore, re-
search on emotional memory demonstrated that the
amygdala plays an important role in enhancing memory
for emotional stimuli both in younger and older adults
[34 –36] . Taken together, these findings suggest that the
amygdala functions similarly in healthy older adults as it
does in younger adults. Thus, it seems unlikely that the
reduced amygdala activity to negative stimuli in older
adults is caused by age-related impairment of the amyg-
dala as the aging-brain model predicts.
Age-Related Differences in PFC Activity during
Emotion Processing
While the cognitive-control and aging-brain models
both predict reduced amygdala activity to negative stim-
uli in older adults, the two models make different predic-
tions about PFC activity during emotion processing. In
contrast to the aging-brain model, which makes no spe-
cific predictions about PFC responsivity to emotional
stimuli, the cognitive control model argues that if older
adults’ positivity effects are the result of a greater focus
on emotion regulation goals, older adults should recruit
more PFC while encountering emotional stimuli than do
younger adults because the PFC is involved in cognitive
control of emotion
[16, 29, 37] . Importantly, such age-re-
lated increases in PFC activity should exceed those seen
in response to neutral stimuli. Increases in PFC activity
are expected for downregulation of negative emotion (i.e.
dampening of emotional responses or attentional avoid-
ance of negative stimuli) and for upregulation of positive
emotion (i.e. enhancing emotional responses to positive
stimuli). To address these predictions, we review prior
studies examining age differences in PFC activity in re-
sponse to negative and positive stimuli (although there
are fewer studies with positive stimuli; further investiga-
tion is needed).
Greater PFC Activity to Negative Stimuli in Older
Consistent with the prediction made by the cognitive
control model, a number of studies report that older
adults recruited PFC more for negative than for neutral
stimuli compared with younger adults ( fig.1 ; table1 ). In
one study
[38] , brain activity was measured by fMRI
while younger and older adults made indoor-outdoor
judgments (i.e. encoding session) and old-new recogni-
Age Differences in Brain Activity during
Emotion Processing
Gerontology 2012;58:156–163
tion judgments about negative or neutral photographs
(i.e. recognition session). The results indicated that older
adults recruited dorsolateral PFC more strongly for nega-
tive photographs (than for neutral ones) compared with
younger adults in the encoding session. Similar patterns
were observed in the recognition session; older adults
showed increased dorsolateral PFC activity to negative
pictures together with reduced amygdala activity com-
pared with younger adults. Other studies also reveal that
older adults show increased PFC or anterior cingulate
cortex (ACC) activity together with decreased amygdala
activity while viewing negative stimuli
[27, 28] . In addi-
tion, relative to younger adults, older adults showed more
negative functional connectivity between the right amyg-
dala and ACC while rating emotional pictures
[33] . More-
over, the negative correlation between these two regions
was observed when older adults rated negative pictures as
neutral, but not when they rated negative pictures as neg-
ative. These results are consistent with the cognitive con-
trol model, suggesting that PFC/ACC dampened activity
in the amygdala while viewing negative stimuli, and that
the enhanced PFC activity seen in older adults reflects
their efforts to downregulate negative emotions.
Indeed, the PFC regions activated by older adults in
these studies (and in others; see table1 ) are similar to re-
gions implicated in emotion regulation. For instance,
Brodmann area (BA) 9 was also activated while people
we re told to down re gu la te th ei r negat ive e mot io ns to aver-
sive stimuli
[37, 39] . Likewise, BA 6, 8, 10, 44, and 45 over-
lap with areas associ ated with downregu lat ion of ne gative
[37] . While most emotion regulation findings are
based on younger adults, a recent study found that cogni-
tive reappraisal activated similar PFC regions to those
mentioned above in both younger and older adults
[40] .
In addition, there is evidence of negative relationships be-
tween the amygdala and PFC during successful emotion
[41, 42] , which is also consistent with the nega-
tive amygdala-PFC correlations seen in older adults when
they encounter negative stimuli
[33] . Taken together, these
studies suggest that the enhanced PFC activity to negative
stimuli coupled with decreased amygdala activity while
encountering negative stimuli may reflect older adults’ at-
tempts to regulate their emotions.
Greater PFC Activity to Positive versus Negative
Stimuli in Older Adults
In addition to increased PFC when processing nega-
tive stimuli, older adults sometimes recruit PFC more for
positive than negative stimuli (relative to younger adults;
see table2 and fig.2 ). Older adults’ increased PFC activ-
ity to positive stimuli has been observed when a task re-
quires more elaborative processing of emotional stimuli,
rather than passive viewing (such as self-relevant process-
[43] , semantic judgments [44] , or mental manipula-
tion of the perceptual stimulus representation
[45] ). This
may suggest that, when prompted to deeply process stim-
uli, older adults engage more with positive than negative
stimuli. This idea is supported by two studies examining
how the depth of encoding affects brain activit y in young-
er and older adults.
In Ritchey et al. [44] , younger and older adults viewed
positive, negative, or neutral photographs, and either
analyzed each picture for its semantic meanings (i.e. se-
mantic elaboration condition), or focused on the colors
and lines in the pictures (i.e. shallow condition). In old-
er adults, positive stimuli induced greater activity in
medial/superior PFC and inferior PFC under the se-
mantic elaboration condition, but not under the shallow
Fig. 1. Age differences in PFC involvement while processing neg-
ative stimuli. Negative stimuli induced greater PFC activity com-
pared with neutral stimuli in older adults compared to younger
adults (represented by black dots; online version: red dots). In
some studies, where participants could anticipate negative stim-
uli, older adults showed less PFC activity than did younger adults
(represented by white dots; online version: blue dots). See table1
for a list of coordinates and studies used in the figure.
Color versi on available online
Gerontology 2012;58:156–163
condition. In contrast, in younger adults, these PFC
clusters showed similar levels of activity to positive
stimuli regardless of the condition. Similar results were
observed in another study
[43] ; compared with younger
adults, older adults recruited medial and middle PFC
more for positive items relative to negative items when
they made self-referential judgments about those stim-
uli (relative to other-referential judgments). Both se-
mantic elaboration and self-referential processing are
known to induce deep processing, requiring cognitive
[46] . Thus, it appears that older adults recruit PFC
for positive stimuli especially when they process those
stimuli deeply.
According to the cognitive control model, older adults’
greater PFC activity for positive stimuli described above
is a result of their effort to upregulate emotion to experi-
ence more positive affect. If this is the case, older adults’
brain regions activated while processing positive stimuli
should a lso activ ate when pe ople upregulate or t ry to a m-
plify their positive emotions. Although most emotion
regulation studies have focused on downregulation of
negative affect, one study
[47] used positive and negative
stimuli in order to identify regions critical for upregula-
tion of positive emotions. The identified regions included
the dorsomedial PFC (BA 6), the left PFC (BA 8), the me-
dial PFC (BA 10), the medial orbitofrontal cortex (BA 11),
and left orbitofrontal cortex (BA 47). Importantly, these
Tab le 1. Summary of neuroimaging studies showing age-related differences in prefrontal cortex activity to negative vs. neutral stimuli
Study Stimulus Task Contrast Age effects BA x y z
Roalf et al. [49] IAPS pictures (positive,
negative, or neutral)
passively viewing [negative > neutral] OA > YA –34 14 32
Williams et al. [48] faces passively viewing [negative > neutral] OA > YA 8 –18 25 42
(fear, happy, or neutral) OA > YA 8 6 40 44
Murty et al. [38] IAPS pictures (negative or
indoor-outdoor judgment [negative > neutral] OA > YA 10 –26 50 15
IAPS pictures (negative or
recognition task [negative > neutral] OA > YA 46 44 24 25
IAPS pictures (negative or
recognition task [negative > neutral] OA > YA 24 6 4 36
Tessitore et al. [27] faces (fear or angry) or facial expression matching [negative-neutral] OA > YA 9 –36 15 22
geometric shapes task or sensorimotor task OA > YA 44/45 32 15 22
OA > YA 8 –10 31 40
St. Jacques et al. [34] IAPS pictures (negative or
valence rating [negative R-negative F] >
[neutral R-neutral F]
OA > YA 9 –43 27 36
St. Jacques et al. [33] IAPS pictures valence rating [negative > neutral] OA > YA 6 33 0 57
(negative or neutral) OA > YA 9 2 28 39
Fischer et al. [35] faces (fearful or neutral) fear or neutral judgment [negative R-negative F] >
[neutral R-neutral F]
OA > YA 9 23 36 35
Erk et al. [25] cues predicting IAPS
pictures (negative, positive,
or neutral)
anticipating a picture
corresponding to the
valence of the cue
[negative > neutral] YA > OA 32 –4 42 0
IAPS pictures (positive,
negative or neutral)
passively viewing [negative > neutral] YA > OA 46 52 22 20
Williams et al. [48] faces passively viewing [negative > neutral] YA > OA 8 –18 25 42
(fear, happy, or neutral) YA > OA 8 6 40 44
St. Jacques et al. [34] IAPS pictures valence rating [negative R-negative F] > YA > OA 6 –26 –6 44
(negative or neutral) [neutral R-neutral F] YA > OA 9 –15 31 30
YA > OA 6 9 16 52
YA > OA 6 12 11 57
R = Remembered; F = forgotten; YA = younger adults; OA = older adults; BA = Brodmann area. Coordinates are in MNI space and plotted in figure 1.
Age Differences in Brain Activity during
Emotion Processing
Gerontology 2012;58:156–163
regions were similar to those activated more for positive
than negative stimuli while older adults were deeply en-
gaged with these stimuli (BA 8, 10, 11, and 47 shown in
table2 ). This provides further support for the cognitive
co ntrol model, sug gest ing t hat olde r adu lts tend to re cr ui t
PFC when encountering positive stimuli in order to feel
more positive.
Questions for Future Research
While many studies have reported enhanced PFC ac-
tivity to emotional stimuli in older in comparison to
younger adults (as reviewed above), a few studies have
reported decreased PFC activity to positive stimuli
48] and negative stimuli in older adults compared to
younger adults
[25, 49] . Some of these age-related reduc-
tions in PFC activity during emotion processing may be
related to the stimuli presentation sequences used. For
instance, in one such study
[25] , participants were given
symbolic cues that informed them about the valence of
the subsequent picture. Being able to anticipate negative
emotional stimuli may have allowed older adults to en-
gage in antecedent-focused regulation (strategies to reg-
ulate emotion before the emotional response has already
been fully activated
[50] ) rather than response-focused
regulation that requires more cognitive control. In an-
other study
[49] , participants viewed blocks of 40 pic-
tures of the same valence for 80 s. Overall, older adults
had reduced amygdala activity compared with younger
adults, especially while viewing the negative pictures.
Older adults a lso showed more PFC activit y than young-
er adults during the first 20 negative pictures, but this
greater prefrontal activity habituated by the second half
of the blocks. Younger adults did not show this pattern
of habituation for any emotional valence and older adults
only showed it for the negative pictures. It is possible that,
during the 80-second long blocks of negative pictures,
older participants initially had emotional responses to
each picture and then attempted to downregulate these
emotional responses. As the series of negative pictures
continued, however, they may have switched to less tax-
ing antecedent-focused strategies in which they attempt-
ed to avoid having a response to the pictures in the first
place. Further research is needed to investigate the role
of anticipation of negative affect and how it might affect
older adults’ PFC engagement while processing negative
Summary and Future Directions
This paper compares two theoretical accounts for old-
er adults’ positivity effect. The aging-brain model pro-
poses that age-related decline in amygdala activation in
response to negative stimuli causes an age-related posi-
tivity bias in cognition. In contrast, the cognitive control
model argues that older adults’ motivational changes di-
rect cognitive control processes to regulate emotion,
leading to a positivity effect. Arguing against the aging-
brain model, previous neuroimaging evidence suggests
that the amygdala remains structurally intact and func-
tionally responsive to various types of stimuli including
negatively valenced items. Furthermore, although par-
ticipants were not instructed to regulate negative or pos-
itive emotions explicitly in most studies cited in this pa-
per, older adults showed enhanced PFC activity during
emotion processing tasks (relative to neutral conditions)
compared with younger adults. These observations are
Color versi on available online
Fig. 2. Age differences in PFC involvement while processing pos-
itive stimuli. Although some studies showed greater PFC activity
to positive stimuli than to neutral stimuli in younger adults than
in older adu lts (shown by wh ite dots; online version: blue dots), in
studies with tasks requiring deep processing of stimuli, older
adults recruited PFC more for positive stimuli than for negative
stimuli (relative to younger adults), which is shown by black dots
(online version: red dots). See table2 for a list of coordinates and
studies used in the figure.
Gerontology 2012;58:156–163
consistent with the possibility that emotion regulation
goals are more chronically active for older adults than for
younger adults
[4, 7] . This idea is further supported by the
overlap in brain regions activated during emotion pro-
cessing (with no instructions to regulate emotions in-
duced by emotional stimuli) and during emotion regula-
tion (with specific instructions to regulate emotion).
Future research should investigate age differences in
brain activity during spontaneous versus strategic emo-
tion regulation (especially upregulation of positive emo-
tion, which has not been well investigated). This would
elucidate how much of older adults’ emotion regulation
mechanism is chronically activated and how much of it is
intentional, and how these underlying mechanisms affect
their mood and cognition in general.
This work was supported by grants f rom the National Institute
on Aging (R01AG025340, R01AG038043, K02AG032309 and
5T32AG000037). We would also like to acknowledge Lin Nga for
assisting with the figures.
Tab le 2. Summary of neuroimaging studies showing age-related differences in prefrontal cortex activity to positive vs. negative or
neutral stimuli
Study Stimulus Task Contrast Age effects BA x y z
Addis et al. [45] photo objects (positive, size judgments [positive > negative] OA > YA 10/32 –1 35 3
negative, or neutral) OA > YA 10/11/47 –34 40 0
Kensinger and photo objects (positive, size judgments during [positive R > positive F]- OA > YA 10 –1 30 –2
Schacter [36] negative, or neutral) encoding and [negative or neutral R > OA > YA 24 –8 22 15
recognition test negative or neutral F] OA > YA 33 8 6 28
Leclerc and photo objects (positive, size judgments [positive > negative] OA > YA 8 –36 24 48
Kensinger [22] negative, or neutral) OA > YA 32 0 40 –4
OA > YA 32 12 48 8
Ritchey et al. [44] IAPS pictures semantic elaboration age X task X valence masked OA > YA 32 17 32 18
(positive, negative, or color processing with [positive > negative in OA] OA > YA 10 –8 38 19
or neutral) X [deep > shallow in OA] OA > YA 10 –22 49 9
OA > YA 10 20 49 4
OA > YA 45 –39 15 14
Gutchess et al. [43] positive and negative self, other (Einstein) [self positive-other positive] > OA > YA 8 –28 12 54
adjectives or case judgments [self negative-other negative] OA > YA 45 50 46 6
OA > YA 32 12 38 40
Erk et al. [25] IAPS pictures (positive,
negative, or neutral)
passively viewing [positive > neutral] YA > OA 9 –2 64 20
Williams et al. [48] faces (fear, happy, neutral) passively viewing [positive > neutral] YA > OA 6 –18 22 54
YA > OA 10 20 54 –2
R = Remembered; F = forgotten; YA = younger adults; OA = older adults; BA = Brodmann area. Coordinates are in MNI space and plotted in figure 2.
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... Carstensen and DeLiema, 2018). While Cacioppo et al. (2011) argue that this effect roots in age-related brain changes, others assume that it results from the use of cognitive-control techniques (Kryla-Lighthall and Mather, 2009;Nashiro et al., 2012). Nevertheless, the positivity effect could explain why age-related decline in happiness recognition is rather small compared to negative emotions (Ruffman et al., 2008;Hayes et al., 2020). ...
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Emotion recognition (ER) declines with increasing age, yet little is known whether this observation bases on structural brain changes conveyed by differential atrophy. To investigate whether age-related ER decline correlates with reduced grey matter (GM) volume in emotion-related brain regions, we conducted a voxel-based morphometry analysis using data of the Human Connectome Project-Aging (N = 238, aged 36 - 87) in which facial ER was tested. We expected to find brain regions that show an additive or super-additive age-related change in GM volume indicating atrophic processes that reduce ER in older adults. The data did not support our hypotheses after correction for multiple comparisons. Exploratory analyses with a threshold of p < .001 (uncorrected), however, suggested that relationships between GM volume and age-related general ER may be widely distributed across the cortex. Yet, small effect sizes imply that only a small fraction of the decline of ER in older adults can be attributed to local GM volume changes in single voxels or their multivariate patterns.
... If the positivity effect is the consequence of an increased motivation to optimize gratifying emotional experiences, it may actually represent an attempt to regulate emotions (Mather & Carstensen, 2005;Mather & Knight, 2005;Nashiro et al., 2012). More precisely, the positivity effect in attention may reflect an attentional deployment strategy, which is an emotion regulation strategy that consists in shifting attention toward or away from emotional stimuli (Gross, 1998). ...
A positivity effect in attention (i.e., an attentional bias in favor of positive over negative stimuli) has been frequently reported in older adults. Based on the postulates of socioemotional selectivity theory (SST), the present study tested whether this positivity effect: (a) depends on the subjective perception of a limited future time perspective (FTP) independently of chronological age, (b) involves controlled processes, and (c) contributes to optimizing positive emotions. Thirty-one older adults (aged 75–93) and 92 younger adults (aged 18–23) were recruited. Young adults were divided into a control group (N = 52) and a group with limited FTP (N = 40), where their subjective perception of the time left to live was experimentally reduced. All participants performed a dot-probe task involving positive, negative and neutral pictures displayed with different presentation durations (500 ms, 1,000 ms). Reaction time bias scores were calculated, and emotional state was measured several times during the task. Analyses revealed attentional biases toward positive (compared to negative) pictures in older adults and young adults with limited FTP, but not in young adults in the control group. These positivity effects appeared from 500 ms of stimulus presentation, did not increase over time, and did not correlate with participants’ emotions. These findings support SST predictions that positivity effects occur when individuals perceive a limited FTP, regardless of their actual age. However, our data also suggest that the positivity effect may be a more automatic than controlled process that does not influence emotional state.
... In addition, our results also show that, based on a limited age range, there was a significant negative correlation between age and rumination scores, as well as age and BDI-II scores, indicating that with the increase in age, people experience fewer symptoms of rumination and depression. This observation is in line with prior studies reporting that older people show a decrease in processing negative stimuli and thus show a positive effect on emotion (Nashiro et al., 2012). Rumination and depression were also highly correlated, as previous studies suggested that rumination is a potential risk factor for depression and can prolong and intensify depressive symptoms (Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 1997;Spasojević & Alloy, 2001). ...
The tendency to ruminate (i.e., repetitive, self‐referential, negative thoughts) is a maladaptive form of emotional regulation and represents a transdiagnostic vulnerability factor for stress‐related psychopathology. Vagally‐mediated heart rate variability (vmHRV) provides a non‐invasive, surrogate measure of vagal modulation of the heart, and higher HRV is considered an indicator of susceptibility, or ability to respond to stress. Past research has suggested a link between trait rumination and vmHRV; however, inconsistent results exist in healthy individuals. In this study, we investigated the association between the tendency to ruminate, brooding, and reflection (using the Ruminative Response Scale) with vmHRV measured at baseline in a healthy population using a large cross‐sectional dataset ( N = 1189, 88% female; mean age = 21.55, ranging from 17 to 48 years old), which was obtained by combining samples of healthy individuals from different studies from our laboratory. The results showed no cross‐sectional correlation between vmHRV and trait rumination (confirmed by Bayesian analysis), even after controlling for important confounders such as gender, age, and depressive symptoms. Also, a non‐linear relationship was rejected. In summary, based on our results in a large sample of healthy individuals, vmHRV is not a marker of trait rumination (as measured by the Ruminative Response Scale).
... Potential explanations include age-related differences in visual processing (Grady et al., 1994;Habekost et al., 2013), emotional recognition and regulation, characterized by distinct patterns of activation within neuroanatomical regions such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex 22 (Nashiro et al., 2011). Hence, these factors could potentially contribute to an explanation for the observed pupil constriction in older individuals. ...
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INTRODUCTION: As individuals are living longer, understanding the factors that impact their everyday lives, health and well-being has become a critical area of research. The purpose of this research study is to assess the impact of an explicit negative stereotype on performance in an emotion recognition task. Specifically, the study aims to investigate in greater detail how self-efficacy influences the relationship between stereotype threat and performance. This will be investigated between age groups (young vs. older adults) and experimental condition (presence vs. absence of stereotype threat). This relationship will be examined on three dimensions; the accuracy (decision-making) and reaction-time (processing speed) in the emotion recognition test and the pupil dilation (physiological changes) during the task. METHODS: We conducted an double-blind eye-tracking experiement with n = 90 participants and computed multiple two-way ANOVA's to test the hypothesis regarding the differences among the four groups (young/prime, young/non-prime, old/prime, old/non-prime) . RESULTS: Our findings indicate that the presence of the stereotype threat did not yield any significant effects on these dimensions in young and old adults. However, it is noteworthy that significant differences were observed between young and old adults on all three dimensions. Young adults exhibited superior performance in the RMET, displaying higher accuracy and shorter reaction times compared to the older adults. Additionally, young adults exhibited increased pupil dilation during the task compared to the older adults, indicating a potentially higher level of cognitive engagement or arousal. CONCLUSION: The study indicates that despite the age-related declines in brain functionality among older adults, they exhibit notable resilience against specific stereotypes, thereby portraying a sense of empowerment and competence contrasting the prevalent societal notion of aging individuals becoming progressively weaker and more vulnerable over time. There remains a pressing need for further exploration to unravel the complexity of its underlying mechanisms and the factors that mediate its effects across different domains
... Functional neuroimaging studies also have come to different conclusions regarding the role of IFC, as well as other regions, in emotions across the lifespan. While some have found that older adults exhibit elevated prefrontal activity during cognitive and affective tasks (Mather & Carstensen, 2005;Nashiro et al., 2012), others have shown lower IFC engagement during emotion regulation paradigms in people of older age (van Reekum et al., 2018). ...
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Individuals with high emotional granularity make fine-grained distinctions between their emotional experiences. To have greater emotional granularity, one must acquire rich conceptual knowledge of emotions and use this knowledge in a controlled and nuanced way. In the brain, the neural correlates of emotional granularity are not well understood. While the anterior temporal lobes, angular gyri, and connected systems represent conceptual knowledge of emotions, inhibitory networks with hubs in the inferior frontal cortex (i.e., posterior inferior frontal gyrus, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, and dorsal anterior insula) guide the selection of this knowledge during emotions. We investigated the structural neuroanatomical correlates of emotional granularity in 58 healthy, older adults (ages 62–84 years), who have had a lifetime to accrue and deploy their conceptual knowledge of emotions. Participants reported on their daily experience of 13 emotions for 8 weeks and underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging. We computed intraclass correlation coefficients across daily emotional experience surveys (45 surveys on average per participant) to quantify each participant’s overall emotional granularity. Surface-based morphometry analyses revealed higher overall emotional granularity related to greater cortical thickness in inferior frontal cortex ( p FWE < 0.05) in bilateral clusters in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex and extending into the left dorsal anterior insula. Overall emotional granularity was not associated with cortical thickness in the anterior temporal lobes or angular gyri. These findings suggest individual differences in emotional granularity relate to variability in the structural neuroanatomy of the inferior frontal cortex, an area that supports the controlled selection of conceptual knowledge during emotional experiences.
... As an explanation, the brain regions necessary for resolving interference for emotional stimuli may decline less with age than other brain regions. Indeed, older adults are therefore more likely to recruit prefrontal resources to regulate emotion than younger adults [16]. All the above studies were performed with static images requesting an active response by the subject. ...
Обоснование . Дефицит в регуляции эмоционального напряжения рассматривается как важный фактор развития ишемической болезни сердца (ИБС). Функции оценки и регуляции эмоций выполняют структуры префронтальной коры и амигдалы, активация и взаимодействие которых различается у мужчин и женщин. В связи с этим актуален вопрос о гендерной специфике корковых механизмов эмоциональной регуляции, связанной с ИБС. Цель : выяснить значение самооценки эмоционального контроля поведения (ЭК) в частотно-пространственной организации активности мозга у мужчин и женщин с ИБС. Методы . Для анализа частотно-пространственной организации фоновой ЭЭГ использовали 64-х канальную регистрацию ЭЭГ и вычисление мощности ритмов в шести частотных диапазонах от 4 до 30 Гц с применением быстрого преобразования Фурье. Для выяснения соотношения ЭК как личностной черты согласно опроснику эмоционального интеллекта и показателей мощности ЭЭГ использовали непараметрический корреляционный анализ Спирмена. Результаты . Исследование выполняли в кардиологической клинике с привлечением 56 мужчин (61,2 ± 8,5 лет) и 19 женщин (67,4 ± 4,8 лет) с диагностированной ИБС. Корреляционный анализ ЭК и средних показателей мощности ЭЭГ выявил положительные связи в диапазоне 4-13 Гц в группе мужчин и отрицательные в группе женщин (0,19<Rs<0,28 и -0,20<Rs<-0,40, соответственно; p<0,030). Регионарная специфика обнаруженного эффекта характеризовалась значимой связью ЭК и мощности тета2, альфа1, 2, представленной в передней части коры с доминированием левого полушария у мужчин, но в задней части обоих полушарий – у женщин, причем последний эффект был ограничен тета 2 и альфа 1 частотами. Заключение . Результаты выполненного анализа соотношения ЭК и регионарных показателей фоновой мощности ЭЭГ в диапазоне 6-13 Гц указывают на разные формы контроля эмоционального состояния женщин и мужчин с ИБС.
Society within the Brain provides insightful accounts of scientific research linking social connection with brain and cognitive aging through state-of-the-art research. This involves comprehensive social network analysis, social neuroscience, neuropsychology, psychoneuroimmunology, and sociogenomics. This book provides a scientific discourse on how a society, community, or friends and family interact with individuals' cognitive aging. Issues concerning social isolation, rapidly increasing in modern societies, and the controversy in origins of individual difference in social brain and behaviour are discussed. An integrative framework is introduced to explicate how social networks and support alleviate the effects of aging in brain health and reduce dementia risks. This book is of interest and useful to a wide readership: from gerontologists, psychologists, clinical neuroscientists and sociologists, to those involved in developing community-based interventions or public health policy for brain health, to people interested in how social life influences brain aging or in the prevention of dementia.
Voice highlights important issues in the workplace, but it may be malfunctional if recipients do not possess the adequate mastery to act on the feedback received. Our research draws on the control value theory of emotions to explain how appraisals and affective processes shape employees' adaptive or maladaptive responses to challenge‐oriented voices from their coworkers. We contend that constructive (destructive) coworker voice activates a positive (negative) affective state more strongly in recipients who perceive higher (vs. lower) behavioral control because they will attribute greater personal responsibility over the voice content. We also expect the affective states to predict interpersonal citizenship behavior and work withdrawal behavior more strongly in recipients with lower (vs. higher) emotional control due to their greater susceptibility to the influences of affective states. The results from three‐wave, multi‐source data collected from 307 insurance sales representatives support most of our hypotheses, except that perceived behavioral control does not moderate the link between destructive coworker voice and employee negative affective state. The findings extend voice literature by taking a recipient perspective on how and why they react differently to constructive or destructive coworker voice, and offer practical suggestions for facilitating optimal behavioral responses to coworker voice in an applied setting.
Objective: Convergent data point to an exaggerated negativity bias in bipolar disorder (BD), and little is known about whether people with BD experience the 'positivity effect' with increasing age. Method: This is a cross sectional study of 202 participants with BD aged 18-65, and a sample (n = 53) of healthy controls (HCs). Participants completed the CANTAB Emotion Recognition Task (ERT). Using analysis of variance, we tested for a main effect of age, diagnosis, and an interaction of age x diagnosis on both negative and positive conditions. Results: We observed increased accuracy in identifying positive stimuli in the HC sample as a function of increasing age, a pattern that was not seen in participants with BD. Specifically, there was a significant diagnosis by age cohort interaction on ERT performance that was specific to the identification of happiness, where the Later Adulthood cohort of HCs was more accurate when identifying happy faces relative to the same cohort of BD patients. Conclusion: Later life looks different for people with BD. With an aging population globally, gaining a clearer picture of the effects of recurrent mood dysregulation on the brain will be critical in guiding efforts to effectively optimize outcomes in older adults with BD.
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Recently, the focus in gerontology has expanded from trying to avoid age-related decline to also trying to promote optimal aging. One key component of optimal aging is maintaining or even enhancing emotional well-being over the life span (Baltes & Baltes 1990; Lawton, 2001; Rowe & Kahn, 1987). The traditional stereo-type of old age depicts a period of evitable and continuous loss, with decreased subjective well-being. However, although negative life events tend to become more frequent and cognitive function and health tend to decline as people get older, emotional well-being does not appear to be compromised by the aging process. In fact, accumulating evidence indicates that healthy emotional aging— characterized by an overall enhancement of emotional experience across the life span—is part of normal human development (see Carstensen, Mikels, & Mather, of aging must explain this phenomenon. How is it that older adults have such emotionally gratifying lives in the face of significant losses? In this chapter, we attempt to explain the surprising robustness of emotional well-being in aging by integrating perspectives from cognition, emotion, and neuroscientific research. First, we review evidence that emotional well-being improves with age and discuss how age-related changes in goals motivate older adults to pursue emotionally gratifying experiences. Next, we present behav-ioral evidence that older adults use cognitive control to enhance their current emotional states. Then we use research findings from cognitive neuroscience to outline the requirements of implementing emotion regulation–focused strate-gies. We then evaluate older adults' capacity to exert cognitive control given the trajectory of cognitive and brain function in aging. Finally, we present findings indicating that older adults use cognitive resources to regulate emotion. In this chapter, we argue that older adults use strategic control processes to achieve their emotional goals within the limitations of age-related changes to neural structures. The intersection of neurological function and affective goals in aging indicates that cognitive function—particularly executive function—is a critical factor in promoting emotional well-being in late life. Our theoretical framework emphasizes older adults' power in determining their own emotional destiny. Cognitive control allows people to direct attention and memory in ways that help satisfy emotional needs. Using cognitive control as an emotion regu-lation tool becomes increasingly useful with advancing age as emotional well-being takes on more importance to those with more limited futures.
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In this article, we outline a new implementation of intergroup contact theory: imagined intergroup contact. The approach combines 50 years of research into the effects of contact with recent advances in social cognition. It represents both a versatile experimental paradigm for investigating the extended and indirect impacts of social contact, as well as a flexible and effective tool for practitioners and policy makers in their efforts to promote tolerance for multicultural diversity. We describe the theoretical basis for imagined contact effects, document emerging empirical support, and provide a practical guide for researchers wishing to adopt the paradigm. Finally, we discuss the potential application of imagined contact in educational contexts, and how it could be integrated with existing approaches to provide maximally effective strategies for improving intergroup relations.
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The lateral prefrontal cortex undergoes both structural and functional changes with healthy aging. In contrast, there is little structural change in the medial prefrontal cortex, but relatively little is known about the functional changes to this region with age. Using an event-related fMRI design, we investigated the response of medial prefrontal cortex during self-referencing in order to compare age groups on a task that young and elderly perform similarly and that is known to actively engage the region in young adults. Nineteen young (M age = 23) and seventeen elderly (M age = 72) judged whether adjectives described themselves, another person, or were presented in upper case. We assessed the overlap in activations between young and elderly for the self-reference effect (self vs. other person), and found that both groups engage medial prefrontal cortex and mid-cingulate during self-referencing. The only cerebral differences between the groups in self versus other personality assessment were found in somatosensory and motor-related areas. In contrast, age-related modulations were found in the cerebral network recruited for emotional valence processing. Elderly (but not young) showed increased activity in the dorsal prefrontal cortex for positive relative to negative items, which could reflect an increase in controlled processing of positive information for elderly adults.
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Research concerned with relations between adult age and cognitive functioning is briefly reviewed. The coverage is necessarily selective, and is organized in terms of five major questions. These are what abilities are related to age, how many distinct influences are contributing to the relations between age and cognitive functioning, do the differences between people increase with advancing age, what is responsible for the discrepancies between cross-sectional and longitudinal age comparisons of cognitive functioning, and what methods can be used to identify causes of age-related influences on cognition. Although definitive answers are not yet possible, quite a bit of information relevant to the questions is now available. Moreover, the existing information has implications for the design, analysis, and interpretation of cognitive and neuropsychological research concerned with aging.
This chapter discusses memory in the elderly and examines age-related changes in emotional processing - in mechanisms of emotional regulation and arousal, for example, considered both psychologically and in terms of their neural mechanisms. It then offers an intriguing set of suggestions about how these changes should influence emotional memory. Among other issues, it considers whether the older person's improved ability to regulate emotion implies that memories should become more emotionally gratifying, as well as whether the emotional qualities of experience might actually protect an individual against the age-related decline in memory. These suggestions are then evaluated by reviewing the current literature on age differences in the effects of emotion on memory. Existing behavioral studies on emotion and aging indicate that the relationship between emotion and memory should change as people age. The link between aging and flashbulb memories is also considered.
Emotions seem to come and go as they please. However, we actually hold considerable sway over our emotions: We influence which emotions we have and how we experience and express these emotions. The process model of emotion regulation described here suggests that how we regulate our emotions matters. Regulatory strategies that act early in the emotion-generative process should have quite different outcomes than strategies that act later. This review focuses on two widely used strategies for down-regulating emotion. The first, reappraisal, comes early in the emotion-generative process. It consists of changing how we think about a situation in order to decrease its emotional impact. The second, suppression, comes later in the emotion-generative process. It involves inhibiting the outward signs of emotion. Theory and research suggest that reappraisal is more effective than suppression. Reappraisal decreases the experience and behavioral expression of emotion, and has no impact on memory. By contrast, suppression decreases behavioral expression, but fails to decrease the experience of emotion, and actually impairs memory. Suppression also increases physiological responding in both the suppressors and their social partners.
The study of emotion across the adult lifespan requires an understanding of how life circumstances change with age. With this knowledge, we can predict when age is related to increases in affective well-being and when age no longer confers such benefits. In the current paper, we review research that finds age-related stability and even increases in affective well-being, as well as age-related strengths in several emotion regulation strategies. We introduce the theory of Strength and Vulnerability Integration to predict age-related patterns in emotional experience across the adult lifespan, and to identify situations when age will no longer be related to improved emotion-related outcomes. We suggest that only by understanding the context of daily life can we predict when and how age is related to affective well-being.
The neural correlates of emotion processing have been shown to vary with age: older adults (OAs) exhibit increased frontal activations and, under some circumstances, decreased amygdala activations relative to young adults (YAs) during emotion processing. Some of these differences are additionally modulated by valence, with age-related biases toward positive versus negative stimuli, and are thought to depend on OAs' capacity for controlled elaboration. However, the role of semantic elaboration in mediating valence effects in the aging brain has not yet been explicitly tested. In the present study, YAs and OAs were scanned while they viewed negative, neutral, and positive pictures during either a deep, elaborative task or a shallow, perceptual task. fMRI results reveal that emotion-related activity in the amygdala is preserved in aging and insensitive to elaboration demands. This study provides novel evidence that differences in valence processing are modulated by elaboration: relative to YAs, OAs show enhanced activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC) and ventrolateral PFC in response to positive versus negative stimuli, but only during elaborative processing. These positive valence effects are predicted by individual differences in executive function in OAs for the deep but not shallow task. Finally, psychophysiological interaction analyses reveal age effects on valence-dependent functional connectivity between medial PFC and ventral striatum, as well as age and task effects on medial PFC-retrosplenial cortex interactions. Altogether, these findings provide support for the hypothesis that valence shifts in the aging brain are mediated by controlled processes such as semantic elaboration, self-referential processing, and emotion regulation.
We determined predictors of conversion to Alzheimer's disease (AD) from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with automated magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) regional cortical volume and thickness measures. One hundred amnestic MCI subjects, 118 AD patients, and 94 age-matched healthy controls were selected from AddNeuroMed study. Twenty-four regional cortical volumes and 34 cortical thicknesses were measured with automated image processing software at baseline. Twenty-one subjects converted from MCI to AD determined with the cognitive tests at baseline and 1 year later. The hippocampus, amygdala, and caudate volumes were significantly smaller in progressive MCI subjects than in controls and stable MCI subjects. The cortical volumes achieved higher predictive accuracy than did cognitive tests or cortical thickness. Combining the volumes, thicknesses, and cognitive tests did not improve the accuracy. The volume of amygdala and caudate were independent variables in predicting conversion from MCI to AD. We conclude that regional cortical volume measures are more powerful than those common cognitive tests we used in identifying AD patients at the very earliest stage of the disease.