Monday, June 30, 2008

Young and old brains differ in encoding positive information

A number of studies have revealed a "positivity shift" with aging; whereas young adults are more likely to remember negative information than positive or neutral information, older adults may be at least as likely (or even more likely) to remember positive information compared with negative information. It has been proposed that this "positivity shift" may occur because older adults put more emphasis on emotion regulation goals than do young adults, with older adults having a greater motivation to derive emotional meaning from life and to maintain positive affect. In the service of these goals, older adults may focus their attention on things that will elicit pleasant feelings and may process positive information in a more self-referential fashion. Thus this work (slightly edited) from Kensinger and Schacter probing the issue is of interest:
Young and older adults are more likely to remember emotional information than neutral information. The authors performed a magnetic resonance imaging study examining the neural processes supporting young (ages 18–35) and older (ages 62–79) adults' successful encoding of positive, negative, and neutral objects (e.g., a sundae, a grenade, a canoe). The results revealed general preservation of the emotional memory network across the age groups. Both groups recruited the amygdala and the orbito-frontal cortex during the successful encoding of positive and negative information. Both ages also showed valence-specific recruitment: right fusiform activity was greatest during the successful encoding of negative information, whereas left prefrontal and temporal activity was greatest during the successful encoding of positive information. These valence-specific processes are consistent with behavioral evidence that negative information is processed with perceptual detail, whereas positive information is processed at a conceptual or schematic level. The only age differences in emotional memory emerged during the successful encoding of positive items: Older adults showed more activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and along the cingulate gyrus than young adults. Because these regions often are associated with self-referential processing, these results suggest that older adults' mnemonic boost for positive information may stem from an increased tendency to process this information in relation to themselves.

Figure - Regions that showed a stronger correspondence to subsequent general recognition (i.e., subsequently recognized > subsequently forgotten) for the positive items than for the neutral or negative items. Red regions showed this correspondence for both young and older adults. Green regions showed this correspondence for the older adults but not for the young adults. No regions showed this correspondence for the young adults but not the older adults, consistent with the behavioral finding that only older adults showed mnemonic enhancement for the positive items.

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