The benefit of taking an approach that views a glass as being half full is now supported by neuroimaging of the brain.
Many experts have linked aging successfully to the “positivity effect” – a biased tendency towards and preference for positive, emotionally gratifying experiences.
A new study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, explains how and when this effect works in the brain.
German neuroscientists used neuroimaging to evaluate brain activity in young and old adults when they performed a specialized cognitive task that included supposedly irrelevant pictures of either neutral, happy, sad or fearful faces.
During parts of the task when they didn’t have to pay as much attention, the elderly subjects were significantly more distracted by the happy faces.
When this occurred, they had increased engagement in the part of the brain that helps control emotions and this stronger signal in the brain was correlated with those who showed the greatest emotional stability.
“Integrating our findings with the assumptions of life span theories we suggest that motivational goal-shifting in healthy aging leads to a self-regulated engagement in positive emotions even when this is not required by the setting,” explained author Dr. Stefanie Brassen.
In other words, looking for silver linings can strengthen positive feelings, enhance emotional well-being and increase emotional control in aging.
“The lessons of healthy aging seem to be similar to those of resilience, throughout life.” That is, when coping with extremely stressful life challenges, it is critical to realistically appraise the situation but also to approach it with a positive attitude,” noted Dr. John H. Krystal, the Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
Focusing on sort-term rather than long-term priorities is a positive strategy often deployed as people age and priorities shift, say the researchers.
In short, aging successfully occurs when an individual uses their brain to focus on the positive.