Age-Related Enhancements in Positive Emotionality across The Life Span: Structural Equation Modeling of Brain and Behavior.

Stretton, Jason 
Schweizer, Susanne 

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Aging is associated with a bias in attention and memories toward positive and away from negative emotional content. In addition, emotion regulation appears to improve with age, despite concomitant widespread cognitive decline coupled with gray matter volume loss in cortical and subcortical regions thought to subserve emotion regulation. Here, we address this emotion-aging paradox using the behavioral data of an emotion regulation task from a population-derived, male and female, human sample (CamCAN) and use structural equation modeling together with multivariate analysis of structural MRI images of the same sample to investigate brain-behavior relationships. In a series of measurement models, we show the relationship between age and emotionality is best explained by a four-factor model, compared with single and hierarchical factor models. These four latent factors are interpreted as Basal Negative Affect, Positive Reactivity, Negative Reactivity and Positive Regulation (upregulating positive emotion to negative content). Increasing age uniquely contributes to increased Basal Negative Affect, Positive Reactivity, and Positive Regulation, but not Negative Reactivity. Furthermore, we show gray matter volumes, namely in the bilateral frontal operculum, medial frontal gyrus, bilateral hippocampal complex, bilateral middle temporal gyri, and bilateral angular gyrus, are distinctly related to these four latent factors. Finally, we show that a subset of these brain-behavior relationships remain significant when accounting for age and demographic data. Our results support the notion of an age-related increase in positivity and are interpreted in the context of the socioemotional selectivity theory of improved emotion regulation in older age.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Aging is associated with a paradoxical increase in well-being and improved emotion regulation despite widespread cognitive decline and gray matter volume loss in neural regions that underlie emotion regulation. Using a population-derived sample, we test the theories behind this emotion/aging paradox with an emotion regulation task and structural MRI data. We report robust age-related increases in positivity across the life span and show structural neural integrity influences this relationship with increasing age. Several brain-behavior relationships remained unaffected by age and may represent empirically derived neural markers to explore the paradox of increased well-being in old age. The results support the predictions of socioemotional selectivity theory of improved emotion regulation in older age and challenge the amygdala-focused neural predictions of the aging brain model.

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aging, emotion, emotion regulation, positivity, structural equation modeling, Aging, Brain, Emotions, Female, Gray Matter, Humans, Latent Class Analysis, Longevity, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male
Journal Title
J Neurosci
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Society for Neuroscience
MRC (unknown)
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00005/4)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/H008217/1)