Background and activities

Ziaei's group aims to understand neural networks associated with social and emotional processing in aging.

What do we know?

We normally talk about aging concerning the cognitive decline and so-called “deficits” in cognitive aspects or slowness in physical processes. While we observe slowing and deterioration in physical and cognitive domains, this is not the whole story in aging. Research has shown that emotional processes stay the same or even improve with age. This phenomenon is known as the “positivity effect” which posits that older adults’ motivational shift helps them to focus on positive emotions and prioritize information that is relevant to their goals.

We have shown that older adults show a preference for positive, over negative, items are related to the engagement of a different brain network known as the cognitive control network (Neuropsychologia, 2016). In other words, older adults can control their negative emotions better than younger adults. Importantly, such a shift in preference for different emotions have consequences for older adults’ social communications. Older adults’ preference for emotional items impacts their empathic response towards others (Neuropsychologia, 2019) and their ability to understand others’ mental state (Neurobiology of Aging, 2016)! So now the question is: what are the predictors explaining whether individuals show attentional biases toward positive emotions in older age?


Key questions:

  • What are the age-related neural correlates underlying individual responses towards social and emotional cues in the environment?
  • How neural correlates of emotional and social processes contribute to mental health in healthy and clinical aging?


  • functional magnetic resonance imaging using 3T and 7T
  • Volumetric analysis of cortical and subcortical areas
  • White matter tractography
  • Eye-tracking
  • Physiological response recording 


Peer-Reviewed Publications (Selected)

  • Ziaei, M., Bonyadi, M.R. & Reutens, D.C. Age-related differences in structural and functional prefrontal networks during a logical reasoning task, Brain Imaging and Behavior, DOI: 10.1007/s11682-020-00315-5
  • Shaw, T., York, A., Ziaei, M., Barth, M. & Bollmann, S. Longitudinal Automatic Segmentation of Hippocampal Subfields (LASHiS) using Multi-Contrast MRI, Neuroimage, 218, 116798.
  • Ziaei, M., Bonyadi, M.R. & Reutens, D.C. Role of the hippocampus in logical reasoning and belief bias in aging, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 12:111 
  • Ziaei, M., Persson, J., Bonyadi, M.R., Reutens, D.C. & Ebner, N.C. (2019) Amygdala functional network during recognition of own-age vs. other-age faces in younger and older adults. Neuropsychologia, 129, 10-20.
  • Horta, M., Ziaei, M., Lin, T., Porges, E.C., Fischer, H., Feifel, D., Spreng, N., and Ebner, N.C. (2019). Oxytocin alters patterns of brain activity and amygdalar connectivity by age during dynamic facial emotion identification, Neurobiology of Aging, 78, 42-51.
  • Ziaei, M., Samrani, G. & Persson, J. (2018). Age differences in the neural response to emotional distraction during working memory encoding, Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 18, 869–883.
  • Ziaei, M., Salami, A.R. & Persson, J. (2017). Age-related alterations in functional connectivity patterns during working memory encoding of emotional itemsNeuropsychologia, 94, 941-12.
  • Ziaei. M., Ebner, N.C. & Burianová, H. (2016). A multivariate analysis of brain networks involved in gaze and emotional processingEuropean Journal of Neuroscience, 45, 2: 312-320.
  • Ziaei. M., Burianová, H., von Hippel, W., Ebner, N., Phillips, L.H. & Henry, J.D. (2016), The impact of aging on the neural correlates involved in gaze and emotional processing, Neurobiology of Aging, 48, 182-194.
  • Peira, N., Ziaei, M. & Persson, J. (2015), Age differences in brain systems supporting transient and sustained processes involved in prospective memory and working memory. NeuroImage, 125, 745-755.
  • Ziaei, M., von Hippel, W., Henry, J.D., Becker, S.I. (2015), Are age effects in positivity influenced by the valence of distractors? PLOS one, 10(9): e0137604.
  • Ziaei, M., Peira, N. & Persson, J. (2014), Brain systems underlying attentional control and emotional distraction during working memory encoding, NeuroImage, 87, 276-286


Invited Book Chapter

Ziaei, M. & Fischer, H. (February 2016), Emotion and Aging: The impact of emotion on attention, memory, and face recognition in late adulthood. In J. R. Absher & J. Cloutier (Eds.), Neuroimaging Personality Neuroimaging Personality, Social Cognition, and Character. Elsevier.