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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2018 Feb;18(1):21-34. doi: 10.3758/s13415-017-0549-1.

Older adults' neural activation in the reward circuit is sensitive to face trustworthiness.

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Department of Psychology, MS 062, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 02453, USA.
Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA, 02129, USA.
Department of Psychology, MS 062, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 02453, USA.
Department of Radiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, 02129, USA.
Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Center, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.


We examined older adult (OA) and younger adult (YA) neural sensitivity to face trustworthiness in reward circuit regions, previously found to respond to trustworthiness in YA. Interactions of face trustworthiness with age revealed effects exclusive to OA in the amygdala and caudate, and an effect that was not moderated by age in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). OA, but not YA, showed a nonlinear amygdala response to face trustworthiness, with significantly stronger activation response to high than to medium trustworthy faces, and no difference between low and medium or high. This may explain why an earlier study investigating OA amygdala activation to trustworthiness failed to find a significant effect, since only the linear low versus high trustworthiness difference was assessed. OA, but not YA, also showed significantly stronger activation to high than to low trustworthy faces in the right caudate, indicating a positive linear effect, consistent with previous YA research, as well as significantly stronger activation to high than to medium but not low trustworthy faces in the left caudate, indicating a nonlinear effect. Activation in dACC across both age groups showed a positive linear effect consistent with previous YA research. Finally, OA rated the faces as more trustworthy than did YA across all levels of trustworthiness. Future research should examine whether the null effects for YA were due to our inclusion of older faces. Research also should investigate possible implications of our findings for more ecologically valid OA responses to people who vary in facial trustworthiness.


Aging; Amygdala; Face trustworthiness; Reward

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