Positive ageing

You might not want to get older but here is the breaking news: it will happen. What you can influence however, is how well you age and new research has shown that your attitude can significantly impact that process.

To study this, neuroscientists had young and old adults perform a thinking based task using a computer. At times during the task, when they did not have to be concentrating, apparently irrelevant pictures of faces that were neutral, happy, sad, or fearful were shown on the screen. The researchers used brain imaging techniques to measure brain engagement of the subjects at various times.

The results showed that older people paid significantly more attention to the happy faces than did younger people. When this attention occurred, the older adults showed engagement of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain that is involved in controlling emotions. When they gave the participants tests to establish their emotional state, those people focussing more on happy faces and having more activity in the part of the brain involved in controlling emotions also showed up as being more emotionally stable.

The researchers observed that healthy ageing involves a shifting of goals towards engaging more in positive emotions even when that is not required by the context. It is known as the “positivity effect” and amounts to looking for things to be happy about rather than things to be fearful of or anxious about.

Positivity is not about ignoring reality, it is about embracing reality with a positive expectation and attitude. In theory, positivity also involves a shift to short-term rather than long-term priorities and that sounds suspiciously like “living in the moment”. Oh go on, be happy, you know you want to.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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