We may wish some memories could last a lifetime, but many physical and emotional factors can negatively impact 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 decline as they age. This result adds to a growing body of research on positive affect’s role in healthy aging.
A team of researchers analyzed data from 991 middle-aged and older U.S. adults who participated in a national study conducted at three time periods: between 1995 and 1996, 2004 and 2006, and 2013 and 2014.
In each assessment, participants reported on a range of positive emotions they had experienced during the past 30 days. In the final two assessments, participants also completed tests of memory performance. These tests consisted of recalling words immediately after their presentation and again 15 minutes later.
The researchers examined the association between positive affect and memory decline, accounting for age, gender, education, depression, negative affect, and extraversion.
“Our findings showed that memory declined with age,” said Claudia Haase, an associate professor at Northwestern University and senior author on the paper. “However, individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade,” added Emily Hittner, a PhD graduate of Northwestern University and the paper’s lead author.
Areas of future research might address the pathways that could connect positive affect and memory, such as physical health or social relationships.
1. Emily F. Hittner, Jacquelyn E. Stephens, Nicholas A. Turiano, Denis Gerstorf, Margie E. Lachman, Claudia M. Haase. Positive Affect Is Associated With Less Memory Decline: Evidence From a 9-Year Longitudinal Study. Psychological Science, 2020; 095679762095388 DOI: 10.1177/0956797620953883
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Love is Medicine Project docuseries, The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit, The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10-week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. You can follow Razi on social media: Facebook at Razi Berry, Instagram at Razi.Berry and join the Love is Medicine group to explore the convergence of love and health. Look for more, and listen to more Love is Medicine podcast episodes here.