Behavioral Neuroscience of Emotion in Aging

  • Alfred W. KaszniakEmail author
  • Marisa Menchola
Part of the Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences book series (CTBN, volume 10)


Recent research on emotion and aging has revealed a stability of emotional experience from adulthood to older age, despite aging-related decrements in the perception and categorization of emotionally relevant stimuli. Research also shows that emotional expression remains intact with aging. In contrast, other studies provide evidence for an age-related decrease in autonomic nervous system physiological arousal, particularly in response to emotionally negative stimuli, and for shifts in central nervous system physiologic response to emotional stimuli, with increased prefrontal cortex activation and decreased amygdala activation in aging. Research on attention and memory for emotional information supports a decreased processing of negative emotional stimuli (i.e., a decrease in the negativity effect seen in younger adults), and a relative increase in the processing of emotionally positive stimuli (positivity effect). These physiological response and attentional/memory preference differences across increasingly older groups have been interpreted, within socioemotional selectivity theory, as reflecting greater motivation for emotion regulation with aging. According to this theory, as persons age, their perceived future time horizon shrinks, and a greater value is placed upon cultivating close, familiar, and meaningful relationships and other situations that give rise to positive emotional experience, and avoiding, or shifting attention from, those people and situations that are likely to elicit negative emotion. Even though there are central nervous system structural changes in emotion-relevant brain regions with aging, this shift in socioemotional selectivity, and perhaps the decreased autonomic nervous system physiological arousal of emotion with aging, facilitate enhanced emotion regulation with aging.


Emotion Aging Neuroscience Socioemotional selectivity 


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Family and Community MedicineUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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