Research on aging indicates that whereas deliberative cognitive processes decline with age, emotional processes are relatively spared. To examine the implications of these divergent trajectories in the context of healthcare choices, we investigated whether instructional manipulations emphasizing a focus on feelings or details would have differential effects on decision quality among younger and older adults. We presented 60 younger and 60 older adults with healthcare choices that required them to hold in mind and consider multiple pieces of information. Instructional manipulations in the emotion-focus condition asked participants to focus on their emotional reactions to the options, report their feelings about the options, and then make a choice. In the information-focus condition, participants were instructed to focus on the specific attributes, report the details about the options, and then make a choice. In a control condition, no directives were given. Manipulation checks indicated that the instructions were successful in eliciting different modes of processing. Decision quality data indicate that younger adults performed better in the information-focus than in the control condition whereas older adults performed better in the emotion-focus and control conditions than in the information-focus condition. Findings support and extend extant theorizing on aging and decision making as well as suggest that interventions to improve decision making quality should take the age of the decision maker into account.
Research has indicated that people with schizophrenia have deficits in reward representation and goal-directed behavior, which may be related to the maintenance of emotional experiences. Using a laboratory-based study, we investigated whether people with schizophrenia were able to maintain an emotional experience when given explicit instructions to do so. Twenty-eight people with schizophrenia and nineteen people without completed a behavioral task judging their emotional experience of pictures held over a 3 second delay. This emotion maintenance task was compared to a subsequent in-the-moment emotion experience rating of each picture. In addition, all participants completed an analogous brightness experience maintenance and rating task, and patients completed a standardized visual working memory task. Participants with schizophrenia showed normal in-the-moment emotion experience of the emotion pictures; however, they showed decreased performance on emotion maintenance (for both positive and negative emotion) compared to participants without schizophrenia, even after controlling for brightness maintenance. The emotion maintenance deficit was not associated with visual brightness performance nor with performance on the visual working memory task; however, negative emotion maintenance was associated with an interview-based rating of motivation. These findings suggest that some aspects of impaired emotion maintenance in schizophrenia may be related to deficits in motivated behavior.
Affective maintenance; motivation; working memory; reward representation
Happiness – a composite of life satisfaction, coping resources, and positive emotions – predicts desirable life outcomes in many domains. The broaden-and-build theory suggests that this is because positive emotions help people build lasting resources. To test this hypothesis we measured emotions daily for one month in a sample of students (N=86) and assessed life satisfaction and trait resilience at the beginning and end of the month. Positive emotions predicted increases in both resilience and life satisfaction. Negative emotions had weak or null effects, and did not interfere with the benefits of positive emotions. Positive emotions also mediated the relation between baseline and final resilience, but life satisfaction did not. This suggests that it is in-the-moment positive emotions, and not more general positive evaluations of one’s life, that form the link between happiness and desirable life outcomes. Change in resilience mediated the relation between positive emotions and increased life satisfaction, suggesting that happy people become more satisfied not simply because they feel better, but because they develop resources for living well.
happiness; life satisfaction; ego-resilience; broaden and build
Aging appears to be associated with a growing preference for positive over negative information (Carstensen, Mikels, & Mather, 2006). In this study, we investigated potential awareness of the phenomenon by asking older people to recollect material from the perspective of a younger person. Younger and older participants listened to stories about 25 and 75-year-old protagonists, and then were asked to retell the stories from the perspective of the protagonists. Older adults used relatively more positive than negative words when retelling from the perspective of a 75 versus 25-year-old. Younger adults, however, used comparable numbers of positive and negative words regardless of perspective. These findings contribute to a growing literature that points to developmental gains in the emotion domain.
aging; positivity effect; perspective taking
A growing body of research suggests that the ability to regulate emotion remains stable or improves across the adult life span. Socioemotional selectivity theory maintains that this pattern of findings reflects the prioritization of emotional goals. Given that goal-directed behavior requires attentional control, the present study was designed to investigate age differences in selective attention to emotional lexical stimuli under conditions of emotional interference. Both neural and behavioral measures were obtained during an experiment in which participants completed a flanker task that required them to make categorical judgments about emotional and non-emotional stimuli. Older adults showed interference in both the behavioral and neural measures on control trials, but not on emotion trials. Although older adults typically show relatively high levels of interference and reduced cognitive control during non-emotional tasks, they appear to be able successfully to reduce interference during emotional tasks.
aging; emotion; attention; interference; suppression; inferior frontal gyrus; middle frontal gyrus; fMRI
Studies of the framing effect indicate that individuals are risk averse for decisions framed as gains but risk seeking for decisions framed as losses. However, findings regarding age-related changes in susceptibility to framing are mixed. Recent work demonstrating age-related decreases in reactivity to anticipated monetary losses, but not gains, suggests that older and younger adults might show equivalent risk aversion for gains but discrepant risk seeking for losses. In the current study, older and younger adults completed a monetary gambling task in which they chose between sure options and risky gambles (the expected outcomes of which were equated). Although both groups demonstrated risk aversion in the gain frame, only younger adults showed risk seeking in the loss frame.
Aging; Biases; Decision making; Framing
Choice is highly valued in modern society, from the supermarket to the hospital; however, it remains unknown whether older and younger adults place the same value on increased choice. The current investigation tested whether 53 older (M age = 75.44 years) versus 53 younger adults (M age = 19.58 years) placed lower value on increased choice by examining the monetary amounts they were willing to pay for increased prescription drug coverage options—important given the recently implemented Medicare prescription drug program. Results indicate that older adults placed lower value on increasing choice sets relative to younger adults, who placed progressively higher value on increasingly larger choice sets. These results are discussed regarding their implications for theory and policy.
Aging; Choice; Decision making; Value; Willingness to pay
The experience of mixed emotions increases with age. Socioemotional selectivity theory suggests that mixed emotions are associated with shifting time horizons. Theoretically, perceived constraints on future time increase appreciation for life, which, in turn, elicits positive emotions such as happiness. Yet, the very same temporal constraints heighten awareness that these positive experiences come to an end, thus yielding mixed emotional states. In 2 studies, the authors examined the link between the awareness of anticipated endings and mixed emotional experience. In Study 1, participants repeatedly imagined being in a meaningful location. Participants in the experimental condition imagined being in the meaningful location for the final time. Only participants who imagined “last times” at meaningful locations experienced more mixed emotions. In Study 2, college seniors reported their emotions on graduation day. Mixed emotions were higher when participants were reminded of the ending that they were experiencing. Findings suggest that poignancy is an emotional experience associated with meaningful endings.
mixed emotions; poignancy; endings; aging; socioemotional selectivity theory
Working memory mediates the short-term maintenance of information. Virtually all empirical research on working memory involves investigations of working memory for verbal and visual information. Whereas aging is typically associated with a deficit in working memory for these types of information, recent findings suggestive of relatively well-preserved long-term memory for emotional information in older adults raise questions about working memory for emotional material. This study examined age differences in working memory for emotional versus visual information. Findings demonstrate that, despite an age-related deficit for the latter, working memory for emotion was unimpaired. Further, older adults exhibited superior performance on positive relative to negative emotion trials, whereas their younger counterparts exhibited the opposite pattern.
emotion; working memory; affect; cognition; positivity effect
Previous research has demonstrated that older adults prefer less autonomy and seek less information when making decisions on their own relative to younger adults (for a review, see Mather, 2006). Would older adults also prefer fewer options from which to choose? We tested this hypothesis in the context of different decision domains. Participants completed a choice preferences survey in which they indicated their desired number of choices across six domains of healthcare and everyday decisions. Our hypothesis was confirmed across all decision domains. We discuss implications from these results for theories of aging and healthcare policy.
Aging; Choice; Decision Making; Preferences
The International Affective Picture System (IAPS) is widely used in studies of emotion and has been characterized primarily along the dimensions of valence, arousal, and dominance. Even though research has shown that the IAPS is useful in the study of discrete emotions, the categorical structure of the IAPS has not been characterized thoroughly. The purpose of the present project was to collect descriptive emotional category data on subsets of the IAPS in an effort to identify images that elicit one discrete emotion more than others. These data reveal multiple emotional categories for the images and indicate that this image set has great potential in the investigation of discrete emotions. This article makes these data available to researchers with such interests.
There are substantial declines in behavioral measures of cognitive function with age, including decreased function of executive processes and long-term memory. There is also evidence that, with age, there is a decrease in brain volume, particularly in the frontal cortex. When young and older adults perform cognitive tasks that depend heavily on frontal function, neuroimaging evidence indicates that older adults recruit additional brain regions in order to perform the tasks. This additional neural recruitment is termed “dedifferentiation,” and can take multiple forms. This recruitment of additional neural tissue with age to perform cognitive tasks was not reflected in the behavioral literature, and suggests that there is more plasticity in the ability to organize brain function than was previously suspected. We review both behavioral and neuroscience perspectives on cognitive aging, and then connect the findings in the two areas. From this integration, we suggest important unresolved questions and directions for future research.
aging; cognition; compensation; dedifferentiation; executive function; memory; neuroimaging; plasticity; prefrontal cortex; slowing