New Research: Being Upbeat Predicts Less Memory Decline

New Research: Being Upbeat Predicts Less Memory Decline

Jackie Stephens and Emily HittnerJacquelyn Stephens (l) and Emily Hittner coauthored a new study published in Psychological Science.Being positive may predict less memory loss as you age, according to a new study co-authored by researchers in the Life-Span Development Laboratory at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, was led by School of Education and Social Policy alumnus Emily Hittner (PhD20), human development and social policy doctoral student Jacquelyn Stephens; and Claudia Haase, associate professor of human development and social policy.

The researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,000 middle-aged and older U.S. adults who participated in a national study. They looked at three time periods: between 1995 and 1996, 2004 and 2006, and 2013 and 2014.

Each time, participants described the positive emotions–such as enthusiasm or cheerfulness– they'd experienced in the last 30 days. In the final two assessments, they also completed memory performance tests, which involved immediately recalling words and again 15 minutes later.

The researchers examined the connection between feeling enthusiastic and cheerful and memory decline, accounting for age, gender, education, depression, negative affect, and extraversion.

The findings showed that memory declined with age, said Haase, 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 Hittner, the paper's lead author and the director of research for Hinge, a dating app.

The study findings add to a growing body of research on the links between positive emotions and healthy aging. Previous studies have suggested that a positive affect can lead many desirable life outcomes, such as more rewarding social relationships and greater physical health. Future research could test whether these pathways in turn connect positive affect and memory.

The study, Positive Affect Is Associated With Less Memory Decline: Evidence From a 9-Year Longitudinal Study was also co-authored by Nicholas A. Turiano, associate professor of psychology at West Virginia University; Denis Gerstorf, professor of psychology at Humboldt University in Berlin; and Margie E. Lachman, the Minnie and Harold Fierman Professor of Psychology at Brandeis University.


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/9/20