New research shows how aging brain brings a healthy dose of perspective

Jun 13, 2008

A University of Alberta researcher in collaboration with researchers from Duke University has proven that wisdom really does come with age, at least when it comes to your emotions.

A study conducted by Dr. Florin Dolcos, assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, identified brain patterns that help healthy older people regulate and control emotion better than their younger counterparts. The study identified two regions in the brain that showed increased activity when participants over the age of 60 were shown standardized pictures of emotionally challenging situations.

"Previous studies have provided evidence that healthy older individuals have a positivity bias – they can actually manage how much attention they give to negative situations so they're less upset by them," said Dr. Dolcos, a member of the Alberta Cognitive Neuroscience Group, which brings together researchers from the University of Alberta to explore how the brain works in human thought, including issues like perception, attention, learning, memory, language, decision-making, emotion and development. "We didn't understand how the brain worked to give seniors this sense of perspective until now."

During the study, younger and older participants were asked to rate the emotional content of standardized images as positive, neutral or negative, while their brain activity was monitored with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, a high-tech device that uses a large magnet to take pictures inside the brain. The older participants rated the images as less negative than the younger participants. The fMRI scans helped researchers observe this reaction in the senior participants. The scans showed increased interactions between the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotion detection, and the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region involved in emotion control.

According to Dr. Dolcos, "These findings indicate that emotional control improves with aging, and that it's the increased interaction between these two brain regions that allows healthy seniors to control their emotional response so that they are less affected by upsetting situations."

The study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, was performed under the co-ordination of Dr. Roberto Cabeza and in collaboration with Ms. Peggy St. Jacques, both of Duke University where Dr. Dolcos received his training in brain imaging research.

This research may have clinical implications. "If we can better understand how the brain works to create a positivity bias in older people, then we can apply this knowledge to better understand and treat mental health issues with a negativity bias, such as depression and anxiety disorders, in which patients have difficulty coping with emotionally challenging situations," Dolcos said.

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: Owls and lizards lend their ears for human hearing research

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Owls and lizards lend their ears for human hearing research

4 hours ago

Lizards and owls are some of the animal species that can help us to better understand hearing loss in humans, according to new research out of York University's Department of Physics & Astronomy in the Faculty of Science.

Team finds key to tuberculosis resistance

8 hours ago

The cascade of events leading to bacterial infection and the immune response is mostly understood. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the immune response to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis ...

Mutation may cause early loss of sperm supply

9 hours ago

Brown University biologists have determined how the loss of a gene in male mice results in the premature exhaustion of their fertility. Their fundamental new insights into the complex process of sperm generation ...

No more bleeding for 'iron overload' patients?

11 hours ago

Hemochromatosis (HH) is the most common genetic disorder in the western world, and yet is barely known. Only in the US 1 in 9 people carry the mutation (although not necessarily the disease).

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.