(English, Thompson, Braver PIs ) R01AG070139

In the progression from middle to older-age, healthy adults typically experience improvements in their emotional functioning, such as increases in positive emotion and greater expertise in managing emotions. However, not everyone shows these age-related improvements, and the mechanisms that give rise to emotional functioning changes across adulthood are still poorly understood. The primary goal of this project is to examine the critical factors that promote positive emotional development in normative aging, and to test whether depressive psychopathology might moderate this process as a key trait individual difference marker. To this end, we test our proposed Value-Based Cognitive Control Model of Emotion Regulation in ADulthood (VBCC-MERiAD). The VBCC-MERiAD framework suggests a novel insight: that interactions between reward motivation and cognitive control play a central role in understanding both the normative trajectory of emotional functioning in older adults, and conversely, why and how individuals with depression histories may get “off track”. We focus on effectively upregulating positive emotion, given that older adults prioritize positive emotion goals, and because depression is characterized by blunted reward processing. Our primary hypothesis is that positive emotion regulation (ER) abilities will rely upon the integrity of fronto-striatal circuitry (i.e., activity and connectivity between the lateral prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens / ventral striatum). Engagement of this circuit is predicted to reflect the utilization of reward motivation as a means of engaging cognitive control (i.e., to update and maintain ER goals). Across three Specific Aims, we propose to characterize the mechanisms of ER in middle-aged and older adults (35-74), focusing on neural and behavioral indicators of motivation and cognitive control that predict daily emotional functioning, and potential dysregulation in individuals with current depression. To achieve these aims, we will employ a multi-method design involving functional neuroimaging measures, laboratory behavioral assessments, and experience sampling methods. The sample (N=220) will include an ethnically/racially diverse set of adults (66% women) of ages 35-74, equally subdivided into two groups: healthy controls and people with depression. A state-of-the art neuroimaging protocol will assess brain activity associated with different ER strategies, and test for linkages with reward-motivated cognitive control. The comprehensive laboratory assessments will include diagnostic interviewing, self-report measures, cognitive functioning batteries, and a standardized ER task with measures of autonomic reactivity and behavioral coding of emotion. The experience sampling protocol will provide a naturalistic, ecologically valid assessment of participants’ emotional experiences, goals and regulatory strategies. The proposed research will dramatically extend our understanding of both normative and dysfunctional age-related change in emotional function, by identifying mechanisms that promote positive ER in late adulthood. In so doing, we will lay the foundation for new interventions to improve quality of life for healthy older adults and identify therapeutic targets for individuals with depression


We are currently recruiting for this study.  Learn more here.