Older adults’ neural activation in the reward circuit is sensitive to face trustworthiness

  • Leslie A. Zebrowitz
  • Noreen Ward
  • Jasmine Boshyan
  • Angela Gutchess
  • Nouchine Hadjikhani


We examined older adult (OA) and younger adult (YA) neural sensitivity to face trustworthiness in reward circuit regions, previously found to respond to trustworthiness in YA. Interactions of face trustworthiness with age revealed effects exclusive to OA in the amygdala and caudate, and an effect that was not moderated by age in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). OA, but not YA, showed a nonlinear amygdala response to face trustworthiness, with significantly stronger activation response to high than to medium trustworthy faces, and no difference between low and medium or high. This may explain why an earlier study investigating OA amygdala activation to trustworthiness failed to find a significant effect, since only the linear low versus high trustworthiness difference was assessed. OA, but not YA, also showed significantly stronger activation to high than to low trustworthy faces in the right caudate, indicating a positive linear effect, consistent with previous YA research, as well as significantly stronger activation to high than to medium but not low trustworthy faces in the left caudate, indicating a nonlinear effect. Activation in dACC across both age groups showed a positive linear effect consistent with previous YA research. Finally, OA rated the faces as more trustworthy than did YA across all levels of trustworthiness. Future research should examine whether the null effects for YA were due to our inclusion of older faces. Research also should investigate possible implications of our findings for more ecologically valid OA responses to people who vary in facial trustworthiness.


Aging Reward Amygdala Face trustworthiness 



This research was funded by National Institutes of Health Grant AGO38375 to the first author. The authors would like to thank Luke Hanlin and Eri Ichijo for their help with fMRI scanning and behavioral data collection.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie A. Zebrowitz
    • 1
  • Noreen Ward
    • 2
  • Jasmine Boshyan
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Angela Gutchess
    • 1
  • Nouchine Hadjikhani
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, MS 062Brandeis UniversityWalthamUSA
  2. 2.Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical ImagingMassachusetts General HospitalCharlestownUSA
  3. 3.Department of RadiologyHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  4. 4.Gillberg Neuropsychiatry CenterUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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