This proposal investigates age-related changes in socioemotional memory using behavioral and neuroimaging studies. Previous behavioral studies provide some evidence of age-invariant memory for meaningful information with socioemotional significance, in contrast to the pattern of pervasive age-related declines in long-term memory for other types of information. However, very little is known thus far about the cognitive mechanisms that support these effects and how socioemotional information is immune to the cognitive declines catalogued in much of the cognitive aging literature. We posit that socioemotional information supports relatively age-equivalent general memory for social information, such as remembering whether something is """"""""good"""""""" or """"""""bad"""""""". This type of memory will be supported by the automatic engagement of the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. In young adults, these regions respond to socioemotional information regardless of the task demands, and we predict that they support age-invariant automatic processes that contribute to general memory. In contrast, we propose that specific memory for the details of episodes, such as the behaviors that contribute to an overall impression of character, will be disproportionately impaired with age, relative to general memory. We predict that older adults will encode less detailed socioemotional information than young adults, revealing limitations to the privileged status afforded social information in memory. Memory for specific details will require controlled processes, subserved by medial and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, and these processes will be affected by aging. The proposed studies will substantially advance the understanding of: 1) how motivating socioemotional conditions can improve older adults'memory, 2) how socioemotional conditions are limited in the ways that they contribute to memory, 3) how aging affects the response of neural regions that contribute to the processing of social information, and 4) how the neural regions supporting social memory interact with neural regions that subserve controlled processing. The few neuroimaging studies to date to investigate the effects of aging on neural regions implicated in socioemotional information processing focus largely on the neural response to emotional information. Our studies take a novel approach by focusing on the neural response to social, interpersonal information regarding character, which differs from the arousing, or overtly emotional, stimuli that have been employed previously. In sum, the results from these studies will provide insights into effective ways to support memory function with age, as well as advance understanding of how the relative patterns of stability and change in the brain with age contribute to social memory.
Increasing our understanding of how socioemotional information contributes to memory with age will provide insights into how to improve the effectiveness of older adults'memory and decision making. This proposal investigates the ways in which socioemotional information enhances memory and engages neural resources, but also explores the limitations to these benefits. While general memory and its neural correlates may be relatively preserved with age, breakdowns in specific memory could leave older adults vulnerable to fraud and deception.
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