Age-related neural differences in affiliation and isolation

Janelle N. Beadle, Carolyn Yoon, Angela H. Gutchess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


While previous aging studies have focused on particular components of social perception (e.g., theory of mind, self-referencing), little is known about age-related differences specifically for the neural basis of perception of affiliation and isolation. This study investigates age-related similarities and differences in the neural basis of affiliation and isolation. Participants viewed images of affiliation (groups engaged in social interaction) and isolation (lone individuals), as well as nonsocial stimuli (e.g., landscapes), while making pleasantness judgments and undergoing functional neuroimaging (BOLD fMRI). Results indicated age-related similarities in response to affiliation and isolation in recruitment of regions involved in theory ofmind and self-referencing (e.g., temporal pole, medial prefrontal cortex). Yet age-related differences also emerged in response to affiliation and isolation in regions implicated in the theory of mind, as well as self-referencing. Specifically, in response to isolation versus affiliation images, older adults showed greater recruitment than did younger adults of the temporal pole, a region that is important for retrieval of personally relevantmemories utilized to understand others' mental states. Furthermore, in response to images of affiliation versus isolation, older adults showed greater recruitment than did younger adults of the precuneus, a region implicated in self-referencing. We suggest that age-related divergence in neural activation patterns underlying judgments of scenes depicting isolation versus affiliationmay indicate that older adults' theory of mind processes are driven by retrieval of isolation-relevant information. Moreover, older adults' greater recruitment of the precuneus for affiliation versus isolation suggests that the positivity bias for emotional information may extend to social information involving affiliation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-279
Number of pages11
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Neuroimaging
  • Self-referencing
  • Social
  • Theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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