May 9, 2021

Positivity effect in aging: Evidence for the primacy of positive responses to emotional ambiguity

Older compared to younger adults show greater amygdala activity to positive emotions, and are more likely to interpret emotionally ambiguous stimuli (e.g., surprised faces) as positive. While some evidence suggests this positivity effect results from a relatively slow, top-down mechanism, others suggest it emerges from early, bottom-up processing. The amygdala is a key node in rapid, bottom-up processing and patterns of amygdala activity over time (e.g., habituation) can shed light on the mechanisms underlying the positivity effect. Younger and older adults passively viewed neutral and surprised faces in an MRI. Only in older adults, we found that amygdala habituation was associated with the tendency to interpret surprised faces as positive or negative (valence bias), where a more positive bias was associated with greater habituation. Interestingly, although a positive bias in younger adults was associated with slower reaction times, consistent with an initial negativity hypothesis in younger adults, older adults showed faster ratings of positivity. Together, we propose that there may be a switch to a primacy of positivity in aging.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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