Letting Go of Regret Linked to Healthy Aging

Emotionally healthy aging associated with reduced response to missed opportunities

FRIDAY, April 20 (HealthDay News) -- Emotionally healthy aging is associated with an ability to let go of regrets and not dwell on missed opportunities, according to a study published online April 19 in Science.

Stefanie Brassen, Ph.D., from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, and colleagues assessed behavioral and neuronal responses in 21 healthy young adults (mean age, 25.4 years), 20 depressed older adults (mean age, 65.6 years), and 20 healthy older adults (mean age, 65.8 years) while they played a game. In the game, participants opened a series of boxes containing money or a loss. If they chose to stop and collect their gains, the box containing the loss was revealed, telling them how far they could have safely continued (missed opportunity).

The researchers found that the healthy young adults and depressed older adults, but not the healthy older adults, took more risks in subsequent rounds of the game when they realized that they could have collected more money. As assessed by functional magnetic resonance imaging, brain activity in the ventral striatum, involved in feeling regret, and in the anterior cingulate cortex, associated with regulating emotion, was similar in young adults and depressed older adults, but differed in healthy older adults. In addition, only younger adults and depressed older adults had increases in skin conductance and heart rate on discovering missed opportunities.

"Using a multimodal approach our data show that emotionally healthy aging is associated with a reduced responsiveness to regretful events," Brassen and colleagues conclude. "Disengagement from regret experiences at a point of life where the opportunities to undo regrettable behavior are limited, may be a protective strategy to maintain emotional well-being and thus can be seen as a resilience factor."

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