Aging brains avoid storing negative memories

December 17th, 2008 - 2:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Dec 17,(IANS) In a new study which gives fresh insights into depression and anxiety, Canadian researchers have found that older people view the past events more positively than younger people.The study, conducted by Alberta University psychiatry assistant professor Florin Dolcos, in collaboration with colleagues at North Carolina’s Duke University, says older people tend to view the past through rose-coloured glasses.

Researchers have identified brain activity behind this which causes them to remember fewer negative events than their younger counterparts.

“Seniors actually use their brain differently than younger people when it comes to storing memory, especially if that memory is a negative one,” Dolcos was quoted as saying in a university release Tuesday.

As part of their study, the researchers showed images of neutral or strongly negative events to participants with an average age of 70.

Asking the participants to rate the emotional content of these pictures on a pleasantness scale, the researchers monitored their brain activity with magnetic resonance imaging machine.

Thirty minutes after this exercise when the participants were asked to recall these images, the older participants remembered fewer negative images than the younger participants.

Though brain scans of both the groups showed similar activity levels in the emotional centres of the brain, they differed in how these emotional centres interacted with the rest of the brain.

The researchers found that in the case of the older participants there was reduced interaction between the amygdale (a brain region that detects emotions) and the hippocampus (a brain region involved in learning and memory) when they were shown negative images.

On the other hand, brain scans showed that older participants had increased interactions between the amygdala and the dorsolateral frontal cortex - a brain region involved in higher thinking processes, like controlling emotions.

Clearly, the older participants were using thinking rather than feeling processes to store these emotional memories, the study said.

The researchers said the study will improve understanding of mental-health issues like depression and anxiety, where patients have trouble coping with emotionally challenging situations.

The study has been published online in Psychological Science.

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