In contrast to effortful cognitive functions, emotional functioning may remain stable or even be enhanced in older adults. It is unclear how affective functions in aging correspond to subjective experiences and physiological changes. In Study I, ratings of emotional intensity and neural activity to facial expressions using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) were analyzed in younger and older adults. Negative expressions resulted in increased neural activity in the right amygdala and hippocampus in younger adults, and increased activation in the right insular cortex in older adults. There were no age differences in subjective ratings. In Study II, subjective ratings of, and skin conductance response (SCR) to, neutral and negative pictures were studied. The ratings of negative pictures were higher for older adults compared to younger adults. SCRs increased in both age groups for the negative pictures, but magnitude of SCRs was significantly larger in younger adults. Finally, in Study III, emotional memory after a one-year retention interval was tested. The memory performance of both age groups was higher in response to negative pictures compared to neutral ones, although the performance was generally higher for younger adults. SCR at encoding was the better arousal predictor for memory, but only in younger adults. The results indicate age-related changes in affective processing. Age differences may involve a gradual shift from bottom-up processes, to more top-down processes. The results are discussed in a wider lifespan perspective taking into consideration the accumulated life experience of older adults.
© Joachim Gavazzeni, 2008