Memory loss is one of older adults' greatest concerns about the aging process. Yet it is possible that some of what passes for simple forgetfulness may result from a complex set of mental trade-offs, a balancing act that shifts priorities from knowledge acquisition in youth to maintenance of a positive emotional state in older years. Across the adult life span, emotion-related goals gain in importance and this shift in focus may affect what older adults are likely to notice and remember. Indeed, the preliminary studies outlined in this application reveal emotionally-oriented biases in older adults' attention and memory, including diminished memory for negative information relative to positive information. We hypothesize that, motivated by emotional goals, older adults recruit executive processes to maintain pleasing and inhibit unpleasant information when storing, rehearsing, or retrieving memories. In this application, we outline a series of studies to test both this hypothesis and other competing accounts of older adults' diminished memory for negative information. Expt. 1 examines the time course of attention to see whether older adults are impaired at detecting threatening stimuli or actively avoid paying attention to anything negative. Expt. 2 tests whether age differences in physiological arousal can account for the changes in emotional memory. Expt. 3 tests emotional memory while participants also complete another task to examine whether cognitive resources are required to diminish memory for negative information. Expt. 4 examines whether older adults who successfully regulate emotion in their everyday lives show more forgetting of negative information and better executive functioning than older adults who are poor regulators. Expt. 5 examines whether older adults are better at suppressing negative than neutral or positive information. Expt. 6 tests whether older adults use memory as a mood repair tool when in a bad mood. In addition, throughout these studies, we examine the role of circadian arousal rhythms (which differ for older and younger adults) in emotional memory. This series of experiments should help us understand whether the diminished potency of negative information as we age is a fortuitous by-product of age-related decline or whether it is the result of increased emotion regulation. In addition, it should help us understand how memory processes can contribute to emotional well-being.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
Program Officer
Elias, Jeffrey W
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Santa Cruz
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Santa Cruz
United States
Zip Code
Durbin, Kelly A; Clewett, David; Huang, Ringo et al. (2018) Age differences in selective memory of goal-relevant stimuli under threat. Emotion 18:906-911
Lee, Tae-Ho; Greening, Steven G; Ueno, Taiji et al. (2018) Arousal increases neural gain via the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system in younger adults but not in older adults. Nat Hum Behav 2:356-366
Clewett, David V; Huang, Ringo; Velasco, Rico et al. (2018) Locus Coeruleus Activity Strengthens Prioritized Memories Under Arousal. J Neurosci 38:1558-1574
Martins, Bruna; Sheppes, Gal; Gross, James J et al. (2018) Age Differences in Emotion Regulation Choice: Older Adults Use Distraction Less Than Younger Adults in High-Intensity Positive Contexts. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 73:603-611
Yoo, Hyun Joo; Thayer, Julian F; Greening, Steven et al. (2018) Brain structural concomitants of resting state heart rate variability in the young and old: evidence from two independent samples. Brain Struct Funct 223:727-737
Sutherland, Matthew R; Mather, Mara (2018) Arousal (but not valence) amplifies the impact of salience. Cogn Emot 32:616-622
Tang, Yuchun; Sun, Wei; Toga, Arthur W et al. (2018) A probabilistic atlas of human brainstem pathways based on connectome imaging data. Neuroimage 169:227-239
Aydogan, Dogu Baran; Shi, Yonggang (2018) Tracking and validation techniques for topographically organized tractography. Neuroimage 181:64-84
Martins, Bruna; Florjanczyk, Jan; Jackson, Nicholas J et al. (2018) Age differences in emotion regulation effort: Pupil response distinguishes reappraisal and distraction for older but not younger adults. Psychol Aging 33:338-349
Nashiro, Kaoru; Guevara-Aguirre, Jaime; Braskie, Meredith N et al. (2017) Brain Structure and Function Associated with Younger Adults in Growth Hormone Receptor-Deficient Humans. J Neurosci 37:1696-1707

Showing the most recent 10 out of 80 publications