Disentangling cognition and emotion in older adults: the role of cognitive control and mental health in emotional conflict adaptation

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2017 Aug;32(8):840-848. doi: 10.1002/gps.4535. Epub 2016 Jul 22.


Objective: Recent research suggests cognition has a bidirectional relationship with emotional processing in older adults, yet the relationship is still poorly understood. We aimed to examine a potential relationship between late-life cognitive function, mental health symptoms, and emotional conflict adaptation. We hypothesized that worse cognitive control abilities would be associated with poorer emotional conflict adaptation. We further hypothesized that a higher severity of mental health symptoms would be associated with poorer emotional conflict adaptation.

Methods: Participants included 83 cognitively normal community-dwelling older adults who completed a targeted mental health and cognitive battery, and emotion and gender conflict-adaptation tasks.

Results: Consistent with our hypothesis, poorer performance on components of cognitive control, specifically attention and working memory, was associated with poorer emotional conflict adaptation. This association with attention and working memory was not observed in the non-affective-based gender conflict adaptation task. Mental health symptoms did not predict emotional conflict adaptation, nor did performance on other cognitive measures.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that emotion conflict adaptation is disrupted in older individuals who have poorer attention and working memory. Components of cognitive control may therefore be an important potential source of inter-individual differences in late-life emotion regulation and cognitive affective deficits. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords: cognition; cognitive control; emotion conflict adaptation; emotion regulation; older adults; working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Mental Health*