Aging is associated with positive responding to neutral information but reduced recovery from negative information
Van Reekum, C. M., Schaefer, S. M., Lapate, R. C., Norris, C. J., Greischar, L. L. and Davidson, R. J. (2011) Aging is associated with positive responding to neutral information but reduced recovery from negative information. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6 (2). pp. 177-185. ISSN 1749-5024
To link to this article DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq031
Studies on aging and emotion suggest an increase in reported positive affect, a processing bias of positive over negative information, as well as increasingly adaptive regulation in response to negative events with advancing age. These findings imply that older individuals evaluate information differently, resulting in lowered reactivity to, and/or faster recovery from, negative information, while maintaining more positive responding to positive information. We examined this hypothesis in an ongoing study on Midlife in the US (MIDUS II) where emotional reactivity and recovery were assessed in a large number of respondents (N = 159) from a wide age range (36–84 years). We recorded eye-blink startle magnitudes and corrugator activity during and after the presentation of positive, neutral and negative pictures. The most robust age effect was found in response to neutral stimuli, where increasing age is associated with a decreased corrugator and eyeblink startle response to neutral stimuli. These data suggest that an age-related positivity effect does not essentially alter the response to emotion-laden information, but is reflected in a more positive interpretation of affectively ambiguous information. Furthermore, older women showed reduced corrugator recovery from negative pictures relative to the younger women and men, suggesting that an age-related prioritization of well-being is not necessarily reflected in adaptive regulation of negative affect.