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Older But Mellower: Aging Brain Shifts Gears To Emotional Advantage
Science News ^ | 6-25-2006 | Bruce Bower

Posted on 06/25/2006 5:55:00 PM PDT by blam

Older but Mellower: Aging brain shifts gears to emotional advantage

Bruce Bower

Given all the bad news that science has delivered about brain cells withering and memory waning as the years mount, older people have a right to be cranky. But, instead, the over-50 crowd handles life's rotten realities and finds life's bright side more effectively than whippersnappers do. In no small part, that's because the aging brain makes critical emotional adjustments, a new study indicates.

NEURAL FEEL. As people age, from 12 to 79 years old, they respond to fear with greater and greater boosts in medial prefrontal activity (left) and to happiness with smaller and smaller boosts (right). Williams

Advancing age heralds a growth in emotional stability accompanied by a neural transition to increased control over negative emotions and greater accessibility of positive emotions, according to a team led by neuroscientist Leanne M. Williams of Westmead (Australia) Hospital. A brain area needed for conscious thought, the medial prefrontal cortex, primarily influences these emotional reactions in older adults, Williams and her colleagues say.

In contrast, people under age 50 experience negative emotions more easily than they do positive ones. These younger adults' emotion-related activity centers on the amygdala, a brain structure previously implicated in automatic fear responses.

This gradual reorganization of the brain's emotion system may result from older folk responding to accumulating personal experiences by increasingly looking for meaning in life, the researchers propose in the June 14 Journal of Neuroscience.

Evidence that emotional functions improve in older brains "indicates that our ability to register the significance of information is preserved, and even enhanced, as we age," Williams says. Older people may benefit from associating information they need to remember with personally significant matters, such as a favorite tune, he adds.

Ironically, older individuals' reliance on the medial prefrontal cortex to regulate emotions comes as aging kills cells in this area. The surviving neurons somehow pick up the slack, the investigators note.

The researchers studied 122 males and 120 females, ages 12 to 79, who had no current or past mental illnesses and good physical health.

Scores on a questionnaire that assesses emotional stability rose steadily from adolescence into the senior years.

Brain testing occurred as volunteers viewed images of various facial expressions. They had been told to identify the emotion in each expression and to rank its intensity. Researchers measured neural response using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which tracked blood-flow changes, and an electrode-studded cap that monitored brain cells' electrical responses.

In older adults, mushrooming medial prefrontal cortex activity triggered by negative facial expressions occurred in conjunction with neural responses that have been linked to conscious thought. This pattern appeared even in older adults who displayed especially low numbers of prefrontal neurons.

In contrast, young people showed far more medial prefrontal activity, and thus conscious thought, in response to positive facial expressions than older people did.

The new results provide a neural framework for growing evidence that, unlike young people, older adults focus on positive information and downplay negative events, remarks psychologist Mara Mather of the University of California, Santa Cruz. The amygdala showed little volume decline with age in the new study, so it's unlikely that age-related shrinkage of that structure causes the psychological shift, she adds.

"Older adults apparently use cognitive-control processes supported by prefrontal brain regions to help them avoid experiencing negative information and focus instead on positive information," Mather says.

If you have a comment on this article that you would like considered for publication in Science News, send it to editors@sciencenews.org. Please include your name and location.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: advantage; aging; brain; emotional; gears; health; mellowe; mentalhealth; older; shifts

1 posted on 06/25/2006 5:55:05 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam

The Hindus always said that you will understand your father when you reach 50 years of age.


2 posted on 06/25/2006 5:58:36 PM PDT by muawiyah (-)
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To: blam

that explains the Murthawi effect


3 posted on 06/25/2006 6:00:49 PM PDT by Cinnamon
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To: muawiyah

Mark Twain said "When I was 17, my father was so stupid, I could scarcely stand to be around him. But, by the time I was 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in the past 4 years."


4 posted on 06/25/2006 6:03:25 PM PDT by stboz
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To: blam
But, instead, the over-50 crowd handles life's rotten realities and finds life's bright side more effectively than whippersnappers do. In no small part, that's because the aging brain makes critical emotional adjustments, a new study indicates.
Maybe it's due to the fact the over fifty crowd realizes aging heart can't handle the stress!
5 posted on 06/25/2006 6:03:26 PM PDT by Man50D
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To: blam
But, instead, the over-50 crowd handles life's rotten realities and finds life's bright side more effectively than whippersnappers do.

Jeepers, not the ones we know...

6 posted on 06/25/2006 6:07:30 PM PDT by mewzilla (Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist. John Adams)
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To: blam

That's why it's not FUN to ride on freaky roller coasters any longer. However, I am happier than I used to be.

7 posted on 06/25/2006 6:09:18 PM PDT by bannie (The government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.)
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To: stboz
Mark Twain said "When I was 17, my father was so stupid, I could scarcely stand to be around him. But, by the time I was 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in the past 4 years."

My personal experience with my parents led me to understand the change is more profound than Mark Twain describes. My parents knew everything when I was a child. I was amazed when I entered my early teens how much intelligence my parents had lost! It was embarrassing. Fortunately for them I knew everything. Imagine my relief when they regained all their knowledge by the time I was in my early twenties.
8 posted on 06/25/2006 6:09:38 PM PDT by Man50D
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To: bannie

OOPS! I should have read it first! my bad.


9 posted on 06/25/2006 6:10:13 PM PDT by bannie (The government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.)
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To: blam

They used to call it wisdom.


10 posted on 06/25/2006 6:11:34 PM PDT by Carolinamom
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To: blam

It explains how grandparents can overlook their grandchildren's faults.


11 posted on 06/25/2006 6:14:16 PM PDT by stands2reason (ANAGRAM for the day: Socialist twaddle == Tact is disallowed)
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To: Carolinamom

I think you just nailed it.

So they just discovered this? This isn't anything that past generations didn't already know!


12 posted on 06/25/2006 6:16:30 PM PDT by sneakers (Freedom is the answer to the human condition)
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To: blam
This gradual reorganization of the brain's emotion system may result from older folk responding to accumulating personal experiences by increasingly looking for meaning in life, the researchers propose in the June 14 Journal of Neuroscience.

The Meaning of Life

The Galaxy Song

Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown,
And things seem hard or tough,
And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,
And you feel that you've had quite eno-o-o-o-o-ough...

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the "Milky Way".

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go 'round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

(Animated calliope interlude)

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.
13 posted on 06/25/2006 6:16:58 PM PDT by VanShuyten ("So...can we have his liver then?")
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To: stands2reason
It explains how grandparents can overlook their grandchildren's faults.

I assume that you know that grandchildren actually have no faults...? (53)

14 posted on 06/25/2006 6:17:21 PM PDT by bannie (The government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.)
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To: Carolinamom

Some of that wisdom includes "don't stress the small stuff."

A healthy individual with no mental problems eventually discovers wallowing in pessimism is no way to waste your life.


15 posted on 06/25/2006 6:18:39 PM PDT by stands2reason (ANAGRAM for the day: Socialist twaddle == Tact is disallowed)
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To: blam
Gee whiz. And I thought that old folks just realized that no matter what they do, their kids will survive or not, having little to do with all their parents "help and good advice".

At least mine don't seem to care about all "my hard earned wisdom".

No flambe, pulease.

16 posted on 06/25/2006 6:25:26 PM PDT by FixitGuy
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To: stands2reason
Seems the deomonrats wallow in pessimism all the time. May I extrapolate that libs are a immature cry babbies?
17 posted on 06/25/2006 6:29:19 PM PDT by Dawggie
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To: stands2reason

"It explains how grandparents can overlook their grandchildren's faults"

Why would I need to overlook my grandchildrens' faults? Mine are perfect.


18 posted on 06/25/2006 6:32:20 PM PDT by Oldhunk
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To: VanShuyten

"So, can we have your liver, then?"


19 posted on 06/25/2006 6:37:42 PM PDT by whd23
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To: blam

We worry less about some things because we've learned they don't happen. (The argument with the spouse is not going to destroy the relationship.) We worry more about other things because we've learned what can happen. (Stay off roller coasters.)



20 posted on 06/25/2006 6:45:05 PM PDT by Graymatter
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To: blam

That computer wil totally freak if it watches my expressions while I'm on FR!!!


21 posted on 06/25/2006 6:51:53 PM PDT by TXnMA ("Allah" = Satan in disguise)
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To: blam

Wisdom of the ages.


22 posted on 06/25/2006 6:55:36 PM PDT by Buffettfan (VIVA LA MIGRA! - LONG LIVE THE MINUTEMEN!)
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To: blam

Oh, darn: here I thought my newfound happiness in life was due entirely to overcoming past suffering, prayer, hard-acquired wisdom, forbearance, and mental discipline. And it turns out it's all biology and I would have gotten happier without having to go through all that. Nuts.


23 posted on 06/25/2006 6:57:30 PM PDT by Fairview
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To: blam
These younger adults' emotion-related activity centers on the amygdala, a brain structure previously implicated in automatic fear responses.

Hmmm, seems strange that the Princess would be involved in these things. But her husband did have lots of metachlorians(sp?).

24 posted on 06/25/2006 7:00:34 PM PDT by AndrewC
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To: blam

ping


25 posted on 06/25/2006 7:11:59 PM PDT by Cruz
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To: Man50D
Maybe it's due to the fact the over fifty crowd realizes aging heart can't handle the stress!

LOL! Maybe. I know my 29 yr old son drives me nuts w/the complaining. I can't imagine why a young person would complain about every dad-blamed thing that happens - on the road, at work, in the grocery store. I don't know where this came from. He's generally a nice, even-tempered kid, but he's driving me crazy. I made it a point not to bring the job home when he was little, so he didn't get it from me.

I try to tell him that all the things he thinks are important, aren't, but he doesn't see it yet. Isn't this the way criminals start out - thinking that the world is against them? : )

26 posted on 06/25/2006 7:18:18 PM PDT by radiohead (Hey Kerry, I'm still here; still hating your lying, stinking, guts you coward.)
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To: blam

Maybe more old folks find God.


27 posted on 06/25/2006 7:28:02 PM PDT by keats5
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To: FixitGuy

And I thought that old folks just realized that no matter what they do, their kids will survive or not, having little to do with all their parents "help and good advice".

True enough!


28 posted on 06/25/2006 9:09:14 PM PDT by Sabatier
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