Older Brains Wired for Positivity

Older adult brains exhibit strength in emotion regulation

Posted May 09, 2016

Older adults tend to see the world thru rose-colored glasses.  They attend to and remember more positive than negative information whereas the opposite is true for younger parts.

Why is the glass half full for older adults? 

Fascinating new evidence suggests that older adult brains are literally wired for a “positivity effect.”  The positivity effect is the tendency to remember more positive than negative information in an experimental research session.  For example, younger and older participants are shown equal numbers of sad and happy faces.  Later, their memory for the faces is tested.  Younger persons tend to remember more sad than happy faces; older adults remember more happy than sad.

This positivity bias, which is evident across a range of studies, may be associated with brain activity at rest.  That is, even when older adults are not processing or regulating emotional information, their brains are poised to down-regulate negative information. 

Indeed, several studies have examined the brains of older adults at rest.  Older adult brains show stronger connections between emotion regulation centers than for younger persons.  That is, parts of the frontal lobes are more strongly connected to the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes emotion information.  It is as if their neural networks are ready and waiting to process experiences in a manner that downplays the negative, leaving them more resources to look on the bright side.

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