The Mellow Years: New Research Using Brain Scanning Shows More Positive Emotional Stability as Humans Grow Older
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THE MELLOW YEARS: NEW RESEARCH USING BRAIN SCANNING SHOWS MORE POSITIVE EMOTIONAL STABILITY AS HUMANS GROW OLDER
WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2006 - For the first time, aging has been found to be associated with positive changes in the emotional brain, says a new report.
A combination of life experience and changing priorities in older age affects the plasticity of the prefrontal emotional brain to allow better emotional control, suggest the authors whose study appears in the June 14 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
"Hopefully, these findings will begin to usher in a new and more positive understanding of the aging process," says Helen Fisher, PhD, a professor and anthropologist at Rutgers University who studies human emotion and behavior.
First author Leanne Williams, PhD, of the Brain Dynamics Centre, Westmead Millenium Institute and University of Sydney, and her colleagues show that from adolescence to the late 70s, people become less neurotic and more able to control their emotions as they age, which corresponds with a shift in the medial prefrontal brain networks that help adjust responses to positive and negative emotional input. Brain scans showed that older subjects recognized negative emotions less than positive ones, and their medial prefrontal brain areas were more active when processing negative emotions than positive ones, indicating better control over brain responses to negative emotions.
"These findings provide good news about aging, contrary to the many negative stereotypes like declining cognition and memory," notes Williams.
Normal age-related differences in controlling emotions may help determine which individuals may be more affected by trauma, says Williams. Also, with predictions that 1 in 3 people will be over age 60 by 2150, new interventions might be developed to draw on positive changes in emotional brain function to help target areas known to decline in function.
Williams and her colleagues administered emotional well-being questionnaires to 250 healthy subjects aged 12 through 79, and observed their brain structures and functions using fMRI and measurements of the brain's electrical activity while subjects viewed facial expressions of emotions, as part of the Brain Resource International Database.
The Journal of Neuroscience is published by the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of more than 37,500 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system. Leanne Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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