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Positive Outlook Predicts Less Memory Decline, Says New Research

We may want some memories to last a lifetime, but many physical and emotional factors can negatively affect our ability to retain information throughout life.

A new study published in the journal psychological science found that people who feel enthusiastic and cheerful – what psychologists call “positive affect” – are less likely to experience memory impairment as they age. This result adds to a growing body of research on the role of positive affect in healthy aging.

A team of researchers analyzed data from 991 middle-aged and older American adults who participated in a national study conducted over three time periods: between 1995 and 1996, 2004 and 2006, and 2013 and 2014.

At each assessment, the participants reported a variety of positive emotions that they had experienced during the past 30 days. In the final two assessments, participants also completed memory performance tests. These tests consisted of recalling words immediately after presentation and again 15 minutes later.

The researchers examined the association between positive affect and memory impairment, taking into account age, gender, education, depression, negative affect, and extraversion.

“Our findings showed that memory decreased with age,” said Claudia Haase, associate professor at Northwestern University and main author of the article. “However, people with higher levels of positive affect had less pronounced memory decline over the course of nearly a decade,” added Emily Hittner, a Northwestern University PhD graduate and lead author of the paper.

Future research areas could address pathways that might connect positive affect and memory, such as physical health or social relationships.

Source: Association of Psychological Sciences

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