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Midlife Development in the United States

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We all have different experiences, environments, behavior, and psychological and social factors that shape our health and well-being throughout our lifespans and its different stages of development. Through one of the longest and most comprehensive human health research projects in the world, we explore the realities of people’s lives in conjunction with differences in their brain health, brain aging, and emotional processes over time. This knowledge is critical in identifying the most appropriate and effective ways to improve and maintain well-being and brain health as people build relationships, raise children, balance work and family responsibilities, and grow older

Study Details

The MIDUS Affective Neuroscience Project is one of multiple collaborative projects comprising the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) study, a longitudinal study looking at health and well-being in Americans in their 20s through 100s. A brief description of MIDUS is provided here, see for more information.

Beginning in 1995 with the support of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network and later supported by the National Institute on Aging, a team of scholars and researchers from diverse disciplines has investigated how life experiences, behavior, and psychological and social factors shape age-related variations in health and well-being in a national sample of Americans.

In the MIDUS Affective Neuroscience Project, our scientists examine brain health, brain aging, and, in particular, the brain circuitry that gives rise to individual differences in emotional style and emotional wellbeing. Using tools such as structural, functional, diffusion, and perfusion MRI as well as psychophysiological measurements, we study differences in the time course of emotional responses to emotion eliciting stimuli, later memory for the emotional stimuli, as well as differences in brain morphology and activity in emotion and stress regulatory pathways. Our goal is to understand how differences in emotional processes affects a person’s vulnerability or resilience to health, disease, cognitive decline, and neurodegeneration. We want to know how individual differences in brain structure, function, and connectivity, as well as emotional reactivity and recovery processes and biases in emotional perception and memory, are associated with the comprehensive array of health, cognitive, psychological, social and life challenge factors assessed in the other MIDUS projects.

The MIDUS study is currently bringing back the Core sample participants for a 4th follow-up and the Refresher sample for a 2nd follow-up. This longitudinal data will allow us to examine how individual differences in emotional processes change with increasing age, different life experiences, as well as how different emotional styles may promote resilience vs. increase vulnerability to cognitive decline and neurodegeneration. These data will be especially informative because the longitudinal data span both the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted many of our participants based on their responses to survey questions on health, financial, and emotional well-being. In addition, MIDUS features a sample of Black Americans from Milwaukee, WI, one of the most segregated regions of the United States. The inclusion of this sample allows for investigations on how racial disparities may contribute to disease risk, and how Black Americans’ risk factors and disease manifestation may differ from those of White Americans. The MIDUS longitudinal data allow examinations of the mechanisms by which socioeconomic and racial disparities impact health, the brain, and well-being.

Learn more about the national project and the +1500 papers published from this research on the MIDUS website.


Sterling Johnson - MIDUS ADRD Neuroscience Project P.I.
Margie Lachman - MIDUS Cognitive Project P.I.
Carol Ryff - MIDUS overall P.I.
Stacey Schaefer - MIDUS Affective Neuroscience Project P.I.

People Working on This Study

Stacey Schaefer
Stacey M. Schaefer
Leader of MIDUS Neuroscience Project and Co-Leader of MIDUS Admin Core, Institute on Aging
Lauren Gresham
Research Program Manager, Institute on Aging
Alexandra Barnes
Alexandra Barnes
Research Specialist, Institute on Aging
Elizabeth Nord
Elizabeth Nord
Research Specialist, Institute on Aging
Sarah Skinner
Sarah E. Skinner
Research Specialist, Institute on Aging
Ajay Nair Web
Ajay Kumar Nair
Scientist, Institute on Aging
Jeanne Harris
Clinical Research Coordinator, Institute on Aging
Anna Finley Web
Anna J. Finley
Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute on Aging

Related Publications

Finley, A. J., Angus, D. J., van Reekum, C. M., Davidson, R. J., & Schaefer, S. M. (2022). Periodic and aperiodic contributions to theta-beta ratios across adulthood. Psychophysiology, 59(11), e14113. PMCID: PMC9532351.
Pedersen, W. S., Dean III, D. C., Adluru, N., Gresham, L. K., Lee, S. D., Kelly, M. P., Mumford, J. A., Davidson, R. J., & Schaefer, S. M. (2022). Individual Variation in White Matter Microstructure is Related to Better Recovery from Negative Stimuli. Emotion, 22(2), 244-257. PMCID:PMC8881294
Urban-Wojcik, E.J., Lee, S., Grupe, D.W., Quinlan, L., Gresham, L., Hammond, A., Charles, S.T., Lachman, M.E., Almeida, D.M., Davidson, R.J., & Schaefer, S.M., (2022). Diversity of daily activities is associated with greater hippocampal volume. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 22(1), 75-87. PMCID: PMC8792192
Puccetti, N., Schaefer, S., van Reekum, C., Ong, A., Almeida, D., Ryff, C., Davidson, R. J., & Heller, A. (2021). Linking amygdala persistence to real-world emotional experience and psychological well-being. The Journal of Neuroscience, 41(16), 3721-3730. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1637-20.2021 PMCID: PMC8055079
Yu, Q., King, A. P., Yoon, C., Liberzon, I., Schaefer, S. M., Davidson, R. J., & Kitayama, S. (2021). Interdependent Self-Construal Predicts Increased Gray Matter Volume of Scene Processing Regions in the Brain. Biological Psychology, 161 , 108050. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2021.108050. PMCID: PMC8375393
Pedersen, W. S., Schaefer, S. M., Gresham, L. K., Lee, S. D., Kelly, M. P., Mumford, J. A., Oler, J. A., Davidson, R. J. (2020). Higher resting-state BNST-CeA connectivity is associated with greater corrugator supercilii reactivity to negatively valenced images. NeuroImage, 207, 116428. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116428 PMCID: PMC7058151
Sommerfeldt, S., Schaefer, S., Mumford, J., Grupe, D., Abercrombie, H., Davidson, R. J. (2020). Neural Correlates of Heart Rate-Subjective Stress Coherence. Biological Psychiatry, 87(9), p. S312. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2020.02.803 PMCID: Policy Exempt.
Urban-Wojcik, E. J., Mumford, J. A., Almeida, D. M., Lachman, M. E., Ryff, C. D., Davidson, R. J., & Schaefer, S. M. (2022). Emodiversity, health, and well-being in the MIDUS daily diary study. Emotion, 22(4), 603-615. doi:10.1037/emo0000753. PMCID:PMC7544683
Sommerfeldt, S. L., Schaefer, S. M., Brauer, M., Ryff, C. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2019). Individual differences in the association between subjective stress and heart rate are related to psychological and physical well-being. Psychological Science, 30(7), 1016-1029. doi:10.1177/0956797619849555 PMCID: PMC6657151
Grupe, D. W., Schaefer, S. M., Lapate, R. C., Schoen, A. J., Gresham, L. K., Mumford, J. A., & Davidson, R. J. (2018). Behavioral and neural indices of affective coloring for neutral social stimuli. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(3), 310-20. doi: 10.1101/178384 PMCID: PMC5836278
Schaefer, S. M., van Reekum, C. M., Lapate, R. C., Heller, A. S., Grupe, D. W., & Davidson, R. J. (2018). The Temporal Dynamics of Emotional Responding: Implications for Well-Being and Health From the MIDUS Neuroscience Project. In C. D. Ryff & R. F. Krueger (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Integrative Health Science. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190676384.013.27 PMCID: Policy Exempt.
van Reekum, C. M., Schaefer, S. M., Lapate, R. C., Norris, C. J., Tun, P. A., Lachman, M. E., Ryff, C. A., & Davidson, R. J. (2018). Aging is associated with a prefrontal lateral-medial shift during picture-induced negative affect. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 13(2), 156-63. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsx144 PMCID: PMC5827343
Hostinar, C. E., Davidson, R. J., Graham, E. K., Mroczek, D. K., Lachman, M. E., Seeman, T. E., van Reekum, C. M., & Miller, G. E. (2017). Frontal brain asymmetry, childhood maltreatment, and low-grade inflammation at midlife. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 75, 152-163. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.10.026 PMCID: PMC5289285
Ryff, C. D., Heller, A. S., Schaefer, S. M., van Reekum, C., & Davidson, R. J. (2016). Purposeful engagement, healthy aging, and the brain. Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports, 3(4), 318–327. doi:10.1007/s40473-016-0096-z PMCID: PMC5438094
Hosseinbor, A. P., Chung, M. K., Koay, C. G., Schaefer, S. M., van Reekum, C. M., Schmitz, L. P., Sutterer, M., Alexander, A. L., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). 4D hyperspherical harmonic (HyperSPHARM) representation of surface anatomy: A holistic treatment of multiple disconnected anatomical structures. Medical Image Analysis, 22(1), 89–101. doi:10.1016/ PMCID: PMC4405486
Chung, M. K., Kim, S. G., Schaefer, S. M., Van Reekum, C. M., Peschke-Schmitz, L., Sutterer, M. J., & Davidson, R. J. (2014). Improved statistical power with a sparse shape model in detecting an aging effect in the hippocampus and amygdala. In Medical Imaging 2014: Image Processing (Vol. 9034, p. 90340Y). International Society for Optics and Photonics. doi:10.1117/12.2036497 PMCID: PMC4188444
Chung, M. K., Schaefer, S. M., Van Reekum, C. M., Peschke-Schmitz, L., Sutterer, M. J., & Davidson, R. J. (2014). A unified kernel regression for diffusion wavelets on manifolds detects aging-related changes in the amygdala and hippocampus. MICCAI,17(Pt 2), 789–96. PMCID: PMC4334354
Lapate, R. C., van Reekum, C. M., Schaefer, S. M., Greischar, L. L., Norris, C. J., Bachhuber, D. R. W., Ryff, C. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2014). Prolonged marital stress is associated with short-lived responses to positive stimuli. Psychophysiology, 51(6), 499–509. doi:10.1111/psyp.12203 PMCID: PMC4008713
Heller, A. S., van Reekum, C. M., Schaefer, S. M., Lapate, R. C., Radler, B. T., Ryff, C. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Sustained striatal activity predicts eudaimonic well-being and cortisol output. Psychological Science, 24(11), 2191–2200. doi:10.1177/0956797613490744 PMCID: PMC3866962
Schaefer, S. M., Boylan J. M., van Reekum C. M., Lapate R. C., Norris C. J., Ryff C. D., & Davidson R. J. (2013). Purpose in life predicts better emotional recovery from negative stimuli. PLoS ONE, 8(11), e80329. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080329 PMCID: PMC3827458
Javaras, K. N., Schaefer, S. M., van Reekum, C. M., Lapate, R. C., Greischar, L. L., Bachhuber, D. R., Dienberg Love, G., Ryff, C. D., & Davidson, R. J. (2012). Conscientiousness predicts greater recovery from negative emotion. Emotion, 12(5), 875-881. doi:10.1037/a0028105 PMCID: PMC3434282
van Reekum, C. M., Schaefer, S., Lapate, R., Norris, C., Greischar, L. L., & Davidson, R. J. (2011). Aging is associated with positive responding to neutral information but reduced recovery from negative information. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6(2), 177-85. doi:10.1093/scan/nsq031 PMCID: PMC3073385
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