(April 2013) Marlene Lee, program director of Academic Research and Relations at PRB, interviewed Professor Laura Carstensen about her research on the “positivity effect.” This effect is an age-related preference for positive information over negative information. The effect was identified by testing the hypothesis that goals change as people grow older, and emotionally meaningful goals take precedence over such things as information-seeking. The brain operates in the service of goals and attention is directed to goals that are emotional and positive.

Carstensen is a professor of public policy and psychology at Stanford University, and a noted expert on cognitive aging and emotion. She is the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. For more than 20 years, her research has been supported by the National Institute on Aging.

As a person ages, “goals related to the positive in life are chronically activated—you notice that the sun is shining as opposed to the headline in the newspaper that speaks to the horrific events in Syria,” Carstensen explained. She noted that younger people are drawn to the opposite—negative information over positive information.