Dedifferentiation of emotion regulation strategies in the aging brain

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Different emotion regulation strategies are distinctly represented in the brains of younger adults. Decreasing a reaction to a negative situation by reinterpreting it (reappraisal) relies on cognitive control regions in the prefrontal cortex, while distracting away from a stressor involves more posterior medial structures. In this study, we used Multi-Voxel pattern analyses (MVPA) to examine whether reappraisal and distraction strategies have distinct representations in the older adult brain, or whether emotion regulation strategies become more dedifferentiated in later life. MVPA better differentiated the two emotion regulation strategies for younger adults than for older adults, and revealed the greatest age-related differences in differentiation in the posterior medial cortex (PMC). Univariate analyses revealed equal PMC recruitment across strategies for older adults, but greater activity during distraction than reappraisal for younger adults. The PMC is central to self-focused processing, and thus our findings are consistent with the possibility that focusing on the self may be a default mechanism across emotion regulation strategies for older people.

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