Successful aging appears to relate in part to a variety of behaviors that require processing of motivated, goal- directed, and personally relevant (i.e., salient) information. For the most part, current research on salience has focused on the cognitive factors that allow attention to relevant information in the external environment. In our research, we focus on age-related changes in "affective salience" and their implications for social functioning. In our original grant, we examined age-related changes in the processing of novel and affectively potent stimuli, with a focus on the human amygdala [(R01 AG030311), Neural Mechanisms of Social Decision Making in Aging, August 1, 2006 - July 31, 2011)]. We found that amygdala responses to novelty, valence, and arousal are less robust and the functional connectivity between the amygdala and other affective brain structures is reduced in older individuals than in younger people. These findings indicate that information in the world is less affectively salient to older individuals. This is despite the fact that there appear to be few anatomical changes in the network that we have identified underlying affective salience (other than normal age-related reductions in amygdala volume). In the competing renewal, we will expand on these findings anatomically, functionally, and behaviorally. Using high resolution scanning, we will examine with more sophistication and precision, and in a larger sample, the extent to which both the structural integrity and intrinsic connectivity of brain regions within th affective salience network are maintained (or change) with age (Aim 1). In the context of spared anatomy and intrinsic connectivity within the affective salience network, task- related affective assemblies within this network are less robust with age, and we will examine the extent to which age-related reductions in sensory information from the body (in the form of reduced interceptive sensitivity) are responsible for task-related reductions in affective salience (Aim 2). Perhaps objects and events in the world are less salient because the bodily perturbations they produce are not detected and represented as efficiently in the aging brain. Furthermore, we will examine the extent to which these reductions in affective salience and interception underlie or contribute to normal age-related changes in memory for novel, neutral material (Aim 3) and in social engagement (Aim 4). Finally, using a longitudinal design, we will confirm that any age-related stability or decrements in affective salience can be disentangled from the substantial individual differences that exist, and also examine the extent to which strong affective reactivity is a protective factor, resulting in better memory for novel material and/or maintained social engagement as people age (Aim 5).

Public Health Relevance

As people age, memory declines and the risk for social isolation (as well as the health related risks of social isolation) increases. Successful aging in these domains appears to relate, in part, to the ability to be affectively engaged by the world. In this renewal, we examine the age-related anatomical, brain function, autonomic and behavioral changes that occur in affective engagement, and examine the extent to which strong affective reactivity is a protective factor as people age.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Massachusetts General Hospital
United States
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