Effects of aging on mnemonic discrimination of emotional information

Stephanie L. Leal, Michael A. Yassa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Episodic memory loss is one of the hallmarks of age-related cognitive decline and a major symptom of Alzheimer's disease. The persistence and strength of memories is determined by modulatory factors such as emotional arousal. Whether emotional memories are preserved with age or if these memories are just as susceptible to loss and forgetting is not well understood. We have recently shown that emotion alters how similar memories are stored using nonoverlapping representations (i.e., pattern separation) in an emotional mnemonic discrimination task. Here, we extend this work to testing young and older adults at 2 time points (immediately after encoding and 24 hr later). Overall, older adults performed worse than young adults, a memory deficit that was not secondary to perceptual or attentional deficits. When tested immediately, older adults were impaired on neutral target recognition but intact on emotional target recognition. We also found that a pattern we previously reported in young adults (reduced emotional compared to neutral discrimination of similar items) was reversed in older adults. When tested after 24 hr, young adults exhibited less forgetting of emotional targets compared to neutral, while older adults exhibited more forgetting of emotional targets. Finally, discrimination of highly similar positive items was preserved in older adults. These results suggest that emotional modulation of memory interacts with age in a complex manner such that the emotion-induced memory trade-off reported in young adults is reversed in older adults. These findings shed light on how emotion and memory interact in the aging brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-547
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2014


  • Age
  • Emotion
  • Hippocampus
  • Interference
  • Memory
  • Pattern separation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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