A Moment of Science

The Sunny Side of Aging

Learn about the sunny side of aging, on this Moment of Science.

Grandparents Sitting and Smiling

Photo: blogjunkie (flickr)

It's a fact that elderly people actually report a higher sense of well-being than younger people do. These grandparents seem very happy!

Have you ever heard of the “grumpy old men” stereotype associated with older people?

Well, elderly people actually report a higher sense of well-being than younger people do. Studies show that as we age, our emotional responses to the world become more positive.

However scientists were interested in what causes this shift in seniors’ serenity at a neural level. Is it an increase in processing of positive information, or a decrease in processing of negative information?

To find out, researchers measured electrical activity in the brains of people between age eighteen and eighty-one while they viewed a variety of images. The images ranged from positive images like ice cream, to negative images such as a car wreck. For each image, participants were asked to describe their feelings as positive, negative, or neutral.

The brain activity of the participants was compared with the emotions they reported. The study found that the older the participants were, the less their brains responded to negative images, but responses to positive and neutral images did not change with age.

While the reasons for the change in responses to negative images are not yet known, the study adds to a growing body of evidence that aging changes how the brain reacts to emotional stimuli.

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