There is no question that massage therapy is a positive experience; now, research indicates people who choose positive, emotionally gratifying experiences age more successfully than do those people who don’t choose such experiences.

The tendency to make good choices has been dubbed the “positivity effect.”

The new research explains how and when this effect works in the brain, according to a press release from Elsevier, which publishes Biological Psychiatry, in which the research is running.

German neuroscientists studied this positivity effect by using neuroimaging to evaluate brain engagement in young and old adults while they performed a specialized cognitive task that included supposedly irrelevant pictures of neutral, happy, sad or fearful faces, according to the press release.

During parts of the task when they didn’t have to pay as much attention, the elderly subjects were significantly more distracted by the happy faces.

“When this occurred, they had increased engagement in the part of the brain that helps control emotions and this stronger signal in the brain was correlated with those who showed the greatest emotional stability,” the press release noted.

“Integrating our findings with the assumptions of life span theories, we suggest that motivational goal-shifting in healthy aging leads to a self-regulated engagement in positive emotions even when this is not required by the setting,” explained author Dr. Stefanie Brassen. “In addition, our finding of a relationship between rostral anterior cingulate cortex activity and emotional stability further strengthens the hypothesis that this increased emotional control in aging enhances emotional well being.”

Lifespan theories explain that positivity bias in later life reflects a greater emphasis on short-term rather than long-term priorities. The study by Brassen and colleagues now provides another clue to how the brain contributes to this age-related shift in priorities.

“Anterior Cingulate Activation Is Related to a Positivity Bias and Emotional Stability in Successful Aging” was conducted by investigators at the Department of Systems Neuroscience, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany and appeared in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 70, Number 2 (July 1, 2011), published by Elsevier.

Related articles:

Chronic Stress May Cause Chronic Pain

New Report Reflects High Stress Levels in Americans Young and Old

Stress and the Immune System: Research Sheds Light on Mind-Body Connection