More is less: emotion induced prefrontal cortex activity habituates in aging

Neurobiol Aging. 2011 Sep;32(9):1634-50. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2009.10.007. Epub 2009 Nov 13.


Several recent studies have documented age-related changes in brain activity--less amygdala activity and higher prefrontal activity in response to emotional stimuli. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we examined whether aging also affects the maintenance of activity to emotional stimuli and whether maintenance differs by the valence (negative, neutral and positive) of the pictures. Younger participants had a larger volume of activity in the amygdala but less in the prefrontal cortex than the old. The old showed more habituation to highly arousing negative but not positive or neutral stimuli in prefrontal cortex as compared to younger participants. Thus prefrontal cortex activity indexes emotion in the elderly, but not the young. Amplified prefrontal activity suggests elderly increase cognitive control for negative, highly arousing emotional stimuli, but it is not maintained. Taken together, age-related increases in prefrontal activity and reduced amygdala activity may underlie observed affective changes in aging.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult