Emotion processing skills (EPS), include 1) attention to emotions (e.g., attention bias to positive versus negative emotions), 2) basic perception of emotions; and 3) strategies that people use to regulate their emotions. Studies from our group and others have shown that these three constructs occur at different stages of emotion processing. EPS are impacted by demographic variables, including age and sex, as well as neuropsychiatric illnesses, including Major Depression. As people age in good health, they demonstrate generally improved perception for and attention to positive stimuli, poorer perception for and attention to negative stimuli, and different patterns of emotion regulation (ER) skills. In addition to age, EPS are moderated by sex. For example, in studies of young adult and adult populations, females tend to demonstrate stronger facial emotion perception skills relative to males, yet more frequently engage in potentially maladaptive ER strategies during times of stress (i.e., rumination) that may contribute to sex differences in depression prevalence. Patterns of sex differences in EPS during late-middle and older age (i.e., 55 years and older) are less clear, and it remains unknown how EPS worsen during abnormal aging processes, such as in the case of depression. Our initial work demonstrating the negative impact of depression on EPS and fronto-limbic circuitry lays the foundation for this investigation. Given known depression-by-age interactions on cognitive aging, it is imperative that we understand how sex and EPS are involved in depression among older people, as opposed to assuming that what we know about EPS from younger individuals is applicable to those in late-middle and older age. This proposal will focus primarily on the ER aspect of EPS, given its more proximal relationship to mood disorders and its characterization as the primary feature of depression in some models. At the same time, we will comprehensively measure EPS, as described in the Approach section. This proposal will: a) characterize sex as a moderator of ER during late middle and older age (55-79); b) illustrate how ER is moderated by abnormal affective aging (e.g., depression), and c) measure executive functioning (EF) as a partial mediator of ER, given that EF declines with age and depression, and is known to be critical to successful affective regulation. As an exploratory aim, we will model interactions of sex and disease. We will study these constructs multi-modally, using self-report, behavioral, and neuroimaging tools, in line with the Research Domain Criteria. In order to achieve a sample that is evenly distributed across the age range sampled, the design is stratified for age (in 5-year epochs), depression status (i.e., never depressed, mild, moderate depression severity) and sex, for a total sample of 180 individuals with usable data from all aspects of the study. This study will clarify the effect of sex and depression on processes central to psychopathology in older age, leading to the development of an intervention for optimizing ER in older adults that accounts for the impact of sex and disease severity and chronicity, as well as important relationships between EF and ER.! !

Public Health Relevance

Engaging in strategies to regulate emotions is essential to facilitating successful social interactions and effective decision-making; emotion dysregulation is a key feature of depression, the leading worldwide cause of disability. Most of what is known about emotion regulation arises from the young adult literature, including sex-specific selection of emotion regulation strategies. The primary goal of this investigation is to enhance understanding of emotion regulation in the aging brain, laying the groundwork for the development of an intervention that will optimize emotion regulation skills in older adults, and can be tailored for women and men with varying degrees of depressive symptomatology.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Adult Psychopathology and Disorders of Aging Study Section (APDA)
Program Officer
Niederehe, George T
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Utah
Schools of Medicine
Salt Lake City
United States
Zip Code