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Brains of Optimistic Older Adults Respond Less to Fearful Faces
Katherine J. Bangen, Ph.D.; Marianne Bergheim, M.D.; Allison R. Kaup, Ph.D.; Heline Mirzakhanian, Ph.D.; Christina E. Wierenga, Ph.D.; Dilip V. Jeste, M.D.; Lisa T. Eyler, Ph.D.
The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 2014;26:155-163. doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.12090231
View Author and Article Information

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose related to the manuscript.

From the Dept. of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology, San Diego, CA, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, and the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, La Jolla, CA.

Send correspondence to Katherine J. Bangen, Ph.D.; e-mail: kbangen@ucsd.edu

Copyright © 2014 by the American Psychiatric Association

Received September 27, 2012; Revised December 17, 2012; Accepted December 21, 2012.


The authors examined the neural correlates of emotion processing and how they relate to individual differences in optimism among older adults. Brain response during processing of fearful faces was measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging in 16 older adults and was correlated with level of optimism. Greater optimism was associated with reduced activation in the fusiform gyrus and frontal regions, which may reflect decreased salience of negative emotional information or better emotion regulation among optimistic individuals. Relationships persisted after taking into account cortical thickness, amygdala volume, and resting perfusion. Findings have potential implications for the promotion of successful aging.

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FIGURE 1. Whole-Brain Response to Fearful Face Versus Shape-Matching Contrast Overlaid Onto a High-Resolution Anatomical Image With Warm Colors Representing Areas More Active During the Viewing of Fearful Faces Than Shapes

Color intensity represents the effect size (η2) for the fear versus shape contrast. Axial slices span from 21 inferior (top left) to 59 superior (bottom right) in 10-mm increments. Results have been clustered and thresholded so as to protect a whole-brain probability of false positives ≤0.01. Images are presented in radiological view. R: right; L: left.

FIGURE 2. Scatterplot of Significant Correlations Between Optimism Score on the LOT-R and Task-Related Brain Response During the Processing of Fearful Faces

Clusters with peak activation in right fusiform gyrus and right inferior frontal gyrus were identified through whole-brain analyses. Dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) and ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) a priori regions of interest (ROI) were selected on the basis of the existing literature.

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TABLE 1.Participant Characteristics (N=16)
Table Footer Note

SD: standard deviation; CBF: cerebral blood flow.

Table Footer Note

a Values multiplied by 1,000.



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