Positive Affect Can Slow Memory Loss

New research links the cheerfulness of our disposition to the quality of our memory
November 16, 2020 Updated: November 16, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic comes with plenty of peripheral consequences. One may be advanced memory loss.

It’s not that the virus infects your brain. Instead, it can make it extremely difficult to maintain what scientists call “positive affect.”

It’s pretty tough to stay cheerful and optimistic as the pandemic has upended life in so many ways. Add that on to political and civil unrest, and you might not be seeing the world through rose-colored lenses.

Yet, there are still things to be hopeful for and smile about. Believing the pandemic will pass, recalling positive memories, and doing activities each day that put a smile on your face can all help boost both outlook and positive affect.

Doing so could slow down memory loss and brain aging.

A recent study published in Psychological Science found that people who feel enthusiastic and cheerful are less likely to experience memory decline with age. These findings add on to existing research that outlook is a component of healthy aging.

Researchers from Northwestern University analyzed data from nearly 1,000 middle-aged or older adults who participated in a national study conducted at three time periods: 1995–1996, 2004–2006, 2013–2014.

Participants reported on a range of positive emotions they would experience in the 30 days prior to the assessment, while during the last two assessments, they also underwent tests to rate memory performance.

Findings showed that memory generally declined with age, but participants with higher levels of positive affect had much flatter memory decline over the course of a decade than those with a more negative disposition.

There will always be bumps in the road and sometimes significant hurdles that can sink a person’s spirit. But how you bounce back could play a major role in memory and aging. That gives good reason to take some time every day to focus on the things that put a smile on your face.

It turns out positive memories can keep you in good mental shape to build new ones as you age.

Devon Andre holds a bachelor’s degree in forensic science from the University of Windsor in Canada and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Andre is a journalist for BelMarraHealthwhich first published this article.