Our attention, memory and the decisions we make are affected by the stresses of the moment and our emotional goals. How emotion and stress affect these cognitive efforts changes with age, yet the underlying mechanisms of these age differences are not clear. This proposal for a Career Development Award outlines two studies that combine structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine how age affects the brain mechanisms that coordinate emotion and cognition. The first study tests the role of cognitive control in older adults'positivity effect by scanning younger and older participants while they watch negative, positive, or neutral pictures either while distracted or not. Previously, we have found that older adults ignore negative stimuli and attend to positive stimuli when not distracted, but that distraction eliminates this positivity effect. Study 1 tests the hypothesis that older adults engage prefrontal-based cognitive control mechanisms to modulate the amygdala's response to emotional stimuli. Study 2 examines how stress affects decision making differently for younger and older adults. Previous results indicate that acute stress reduces risk taking in older adults but not younger adults. In this study, brain activity during rest and a risky decision task will be compared in a stress and a control condition. The role of chronic stress in modulating brain activity will be examined in both studies. Substantial training in neuroanatomy and analyzing structural and functional MRI data will occur via tutorials, workshops and graduate-level courses and seminars. Understanding the brain mechanisms of emotion-cognition interactions is a key goal of the PI;this Career Development Award will give her expertise in MRI and neuroanatomy that will help her develop and test theories about age differences in the mechanisms of emotion, stress and cognition.

Public Health Relevance

Understanding age differences in the brain mechanisms of how emotion and stress affect cognitive processing is key to understanding how people can maintain mental sharpness and emotional well-being throughout life.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Scientist Development Award - Research (K02)
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National Institute on Aging Initial Review Group (NIA)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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University of Southern California
Other Domestic Higher Education
Los Angeles
United States
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Barber, Sarah J; Castrellon, Jaime J; Opitz, Philipp et al. (2017) Younger and older adults' collaborative recall of shared and unshared emotional pictures. Mem Cognit 45:716-730
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Barber, Sarah J; Mather, Mara (2014) How retellings shape younger and older adults' memories. J Cogn Psychol (Hove) 26:263-279

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