Words unsaid, missed chances, wrong choices, broken promises…there are some regrets we carry in our hearts for as long we live. But if you want to live well into your sunset years, and stay healthy emotionally, you’ll have to let go of the ruminating. A team of researchers from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany led by Stefanie Brassen compared the brain activity of three groups of people: young adults, depressed older adults, and healthy older adults. They were made to participate in a computer game which offered them a chance to win money. Missing the chances made them experience regret. Young adults and older adults who regretted missing chances, took more risks in subsequent rounds. But, healthy older adults showed no difference in their behaviour.
The research team observed brain activity of the participants. The young adults and depressed older adults showed similar levels of activity in the brain regions involved in feeling regret, and regulating emotion. However, the healthy older adults showed a different brain-activity pattern. They were also experiencing less regret and regulating their emotions more effectively. Consistent with these experiments, the researchers also observed changes in skin conductance and heart rate in depressed older adults but not in healthy older adults, when the test subjects were confronted with a missed opportunity.
Brassen and colleagues speculate that perhaps the healthy older adults used some mental strategies such as reminding themselves that the results were up to chance that let them feel less regret. The depressed older adults, though, seem to be blaming themselves for the outcome. They found that letting go of regrets is crucial if we want to become emotionally healthy seniors.
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