Positivity effect in aging: evidence for the primacy of positive responses to emotional ambiguity

Nathan M. Petro, Ruby Basyouni, Maital Neta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Older compared to younger adults show greater amygdala activity to positive emotions, and are more likely to interpret emotionally ambiguous stimuli (e.g., surprised faces) as positive. While some evidence suggests this positivity effect results from a top-down, effortful mechanism, others suggest it may emerge as the default or initial response. The amygdala is a key node in rapid, bottom-up processing and patterns of amygdala activity over time (e.g., habituation) can shed light on the mechanisms underlying the positivity effect. Younger and older adults passively viewed neutral and surprised faces in an MRI. Only in older adults, amygdala habituation was associated with the tendency to interpret surprised faces as positive or negative (valence bias), where a more positive bias was associated with greater habituation. Interestingly, although a positive bias in younger adults was associated with slower responses, consistent with an initial negativity hypothesis in younger adults, older adults showed faster categorizations of positivity. Together, we propose that there may be a switch to a primacy of positivity in aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-240
Number of pages9
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Aging
  • Amygdala
  • Emotion
  • Positivity Effect
  • Valence Bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Aging
  • Developmental Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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