The emotional centers of the older subjects were as active as those of younger subjects -- it was the brain connections that differed.
"If using the frontal regions to perform a memory task was always beneficial, then the young people would use that strategy, too," Cabeza said. "Each way of doing a task has some trade-offs. Older people have learned to be less affected by negative information in order to maintain their well being and emotional state they may have sacrificed more accurate memory for a negative stimulus, so that they won't be so affected by it."
"Perhaps at different stages of life, there are different brain strategies," Cabeza speculated. "Younger adults might need to keep an accurate memory for both positive and negative information in the world. Older people dwell in a world with a lot of negatives, so perhaps they have learned to reduce the impact of negative information and remember in a different way." According to Cabeza, the results of the study are consistent with a theory about emotional processes in older adults proposed by Dr. Laura Carstensen at Stanford University, an expert in cognitive processing in old age.
"One thing we might do in the future is to ask subjects to try to actively regulate their emotions as they look at the pictures," St. Jacques said. "Would there be a shift in the neural networks for processing the negative pictures when we asked younger people to regulate their emotional responses? How would that affect their later recall of the negative pictures?"
|Contact: Mary Jane Gore|
Duke University Medical Center