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Optimistic update bias increases in older age

, : Optimistic update bias increases in older age. Psychological Medicine 44(9): 2003-2012

Healthy older adults report greater well-being and life satisfaction than their younger counterparts. One potential explanation for this is enhanced optimism. We tested the influence of age on optimistic and pessimistic beliefs about the future and the associated structural neural correlates. Eighteen young and 18 healthy older adults performed a belief updating paradigm, measuring differences in updating beliefs for desirable and undesirable information about future negative events. These measures were related to regional brain volume, focusing on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) because this region is strongly linked to a positivity bias in older age. We demonstrate an age-related reduction in updating beliefs when older adults are faced with undesirable, but not desirable, information about negative events. This greater 'update bias' in older age persisted even after controlling for a variety of variables including subjective rating scales and poorer overall memory. A structural brain correlate of this greater 'update bias' was evident in greater grey matter volume in the dorsal ACC in older but not in young adults. We show a greater update bias in healthy older age. The link between this bias and relative volume of the ACC suggests a shared mechanism with an age-related positivity bias. Older adults frequently have to make important decisions relating to personal, health and financial issues. Our findings have wider behavioural implications in these contexts because an enhanced optimistic update bias may skew such real-world decision making.


PMID: 24180676

DOI: 10.1017/S0033291713002602

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