Immediate and long-term effects of emotional suppression in aging: A functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation

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Available evidence suggests enhanced spontaneous emotion regulation in healthy aging, but the effects of specific strategies and the associated age-related neural mechanisms remain unclear. In this study, younger and older participants rated the emotional content of negative and neutral images, after explicit instructions or implicit priming to engage emotional suppression as an emotion regulation strategy, while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data were recorded. Participants' memory for the images was also tested 1 week later. Behaviorally, younger and older adults were similarly successful in using explicit suppression to inhibit immediate emotional responses. However, this was associated with reduced long-term memory only for younger adults. fMRI data showed dissociable activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) coupled with similar activity in the amygdala in younger and older adults after the engagement of emotional suppression. Results also identified a lateral-to-medial shift in the functional connectivity of the PFC in aging, linked to the engagement of explicit suppression. Regarding memory, younger adults uniquely showed bilateral modulation of encoding-related activity in the hippocampus (HC), as well as a left-lateralized decrease of the HC-PFC functional connectivity after explicit emotional suppression. This is consistent with diminished involvement of typical mechanisms associated with emotional memory because of successful engagement of explicit suppression in younger adults. Taken together, these findings identified similar and differential effects of suppression on immediate emotional responses and long-term memory for emotional information, in younger and older adults, and provide insights into the neural mechanisms by which younger and older adults adaptively cope with emotional challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)676-696
Number of pages21
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Amygdala
  • Emotion control
  • Emotion-cognition interactions
  • Emotional memory
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Social Psychology
  • Aging


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