Emily Hittner, Ph.D.

A positive outlook may lead to less memory loss with aging, according to a new study from Northwestern University.

The authors examined the link between what psychologists call positive affect — feeling enthusiastic, attentive, proud or active, for example — and aspects of memory over time. Nearly 1,000 middle-aged and older U.S. adult participants were contacted three times between 1995 and 2014. They were asked to describe positive emotions they’d experienced in the last 30 days. In the final two assessments, they also took word recall tests.

Although their recall abilities declined with age as expected, individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep decline in memory over a decade’s time, reported Emily Hittner, Ph.D., of the university’s Life-Span Development Laboratory in the School of Education and Social Policy.

The results held after adjusting for age, gender, education, depression, negative affect and extraversion.

Full findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.