The goal of this proposal is to examine whether age-related cognitive decline impairs older adults'ability to regulate negative bias against stigmatized individuals. It has been widely demonstrated that aging has a deleterious impact on cognition (specifically memory and executive function), but the extent and cause of these impairments is widely debated. This proposal thus uses social neuroscience techniques as an alternative approach to investigate the effects of aging on cognition. Extensive research has demonstrated that executive function plays a central role in regulating bias against stigma. Thus, this proposal will examine the effects of aging on the underlying neural mechanisms that give rise to regulating negative bias against stigma. Preliminary research presented in this proposal suggests that older adults have more negative bias toward stigmatized individuals than young adults. Importantly, their bias is exacerbated by executive function decline. However, the mechanisms by which aging impairs older adults'ability to regulate negative bias remain a mystery. The current proposal presents four studies to address this question. The first study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine if age-related cognitive decline affects older adults'social judgments, or if a secondary factor (e.g., cohort differences) may play a role in disparities that arise between young and older adults'social judgments. The second study investigates if these strategies are influenced by cognitive capacity. The third study uses fMRI to examine whether older adults rely on different neural mechanisms than young adults to actively regulate their prepotent aversive responses to stigma. The final study uses a specialized neuroimaging technique (functional connectivity) to identify potential age-related differences in neural connectivity that could impair older adults'ability to regulate negative bias against the stigmatized. The findings will shed light on the effects of aging on social cognition. Specifically, these studies will identify both the cognitive mechanisms that are impaired by aging, as well as the extent to which they decline with age. Longer term, these studies will provide the necessary foundation from which to develop interventions with older adults to promote healthy social interactions (e.g., through emotion regulation and coping mechanisms). Further, these studies will contribute to the growing research seeking to detect early warning signs in cognitive development that may be indicative of abnormalities in the aging process.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F11-B (20))
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Tufts University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Krendl, Anne C; Wolford, George (2013) Cognitive decline and older adults' perception of stigma controllability. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 68:333-6