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Positivity Effect

In tests of SST, we found evidence that older people are more likely to remember emotionally meaningful stimuli as compared to stimuli about learning and exploration.  In follow-up studies, we identified what is now called the “positivity effect” in cognitive processing.  The effect is defined as a relative preference among older people for positive over negative stimuli when compared to younger adults.  Many studies now suggest that older adults attend to and remember positive information better than negative information. Scores of studies from multiple laboratories, utilizing a wide variety of methodological approaches, have revealed this pattern (Mather et al., 2004; Mikels, Larkin, Reuter-Lorenz, & Carstensen, 2005; Ready, Weinberger, & Jones, 2007; Shamaskin, Mikels, & Reed, 2010; Isaacowitz, Wadlinger, Goren, & Wilson, 2006; Mather & Carstensen, 2003).  A meta-analysis published in 2014 based on 100 studies concluded that the positivity effect is reliable (Reed, Chan &, Mikels 2014). Attending to and remembering what’s positive more than what’s negative presumably benefits emotional experience. Theoretically, this reflects the deployment of cognitive resources in support of goal-directed behavior.