Age-related decline in positive emotional reactivity and emotion regulation in a population-derived cohort

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2019 Aug 7;14(6):623-631. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsz036.


Human older age ushers in functional decline across the majority of cognitive domains. A notable exception seems to be affective processing, with older people reporting higher levels of emotional well-being. Here we evaluated age-related changes in emotional reactivity and regulation in a representative subsample (N = 104; age range: 23-88 years) of the population-derived Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience cohort. Performance on a film-based emotion reactivity and regulation task in the magnetic resonance imaging scanner showed an age-related decline in positive reactivity, alongside a similar decline in the capacity to down-regulate negative affect. Decreased positivity with age was associated with reduced activation in the middle frontal gyrus. These findings, from the largest neuroimaging investigation to-date, provide no support for age-related increases in positive emotional reactivity.

Keywords: ageing; emotion regulation; middle frontal gyrus; positivity; socioemotional selectivity theory.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Emotional Regulation / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult