Anterior cingulate activation is related to a positivity bias and emotional stability in successful aging

Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Jul 15;70(2):131-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.10.013. Epub 2010 Dec 23.


Background: Behavioral studies consistently reported an increased preference for positive experiences in older adults. The socio-emotional selectivity theory explains this positivity effect with a motivated goal shift in emotion regulation, which probably depends on available cognitive resources. The present study investigates the neurobiological mechanism underlying this hypothesis.

Methods: Functional magnetic resonance imaging data were acquired in 21 older and 22 young subjects while performing a spatial-cueing paradigm that manipulates attentional load on emotional face distracters. We focused our analyses on the anterior cingulate cortex as a key structure of cognitive control of emotion.

Results: Elderly subjects showed a specifically increased distractibility by happy faces when more attentional resources were available for face processing. This effect was paralleled by an increased engagement of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, and this frontal engagement was significantly correlated with emotional stability.

Conclusions: The current study highlights how the brain might mediate the tendency to preferentially engage in positive information processing in healthy aging. The finding of a resource-dependency of this positivity effect suggests demanding self-regulating processes that are related to emotional well-being. These findings are of particular relevance regarding implications for the understanding, treatment, and prevention of nonsuccessful aging like highly prevalent late-life depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Bias*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Inventory
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult