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Midlife Development in the United States

Image by plamensart via iStockPhoto


We all have different experiences, behavior, and psychological and social factors that shape health and well-being throughout our lifespans. 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 individuals’ brain structure, function and emotional processes. This knowledge is critical in identifying the most appropriate and effective ways to improve well-being as people maintain relationships, raise children, balance work and family responsibilities, and grow older. 

Study Details

Our Center comprises the Neuroscience Project of the Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) study, a longitudinal study looking at health and well-being in Americans in their 20s through 90s.

Beginning in 1995 with the support of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network and later supported by the National Institute on Aging, the study consists of several collaborative research projects that explore different aspects of aging and well-being in the same participants. Over the years, 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 Neuroscience Project, our scientists examine the brain circuitry that gives rise to individual differences in emotional style and how that affects a person’s vulnerability or resilience to health and disease. Using tools such as structural, functional, diffusion, and perfusion MRI as well as psychophysiological measurements, we study differences in emotional responses to emotion eliciting stimuli, such as emotional reactivity and recovery processes, brain morphology and activity in emotion and stress regulatory pathways, and later memory for the emotional stimuli.

The research team at the Center tests how individual differences in brain structure and function, as well as emotional reactivity and recovery processes and emotional memory biases, are associated with the comprehensive array of health, cognitive, psychological, social and life challenge factors assessed in the other MIDUS projects.

The MIDUS study has received funding to bring back participants for a third follow-up. Our lab is currently collecting data on the same participants repeating assessments approximately 10 years apart. This longitudinal data will allow us to examine how individual differences in emotional reactivity, recovery, and sustaining processes change with increasing age, different life experiences, as well as how different emotional response styles may promote or prevent resilience and well-being. These data will be especially interesting because this 10-year period will have included the Great Recession, which we know had an impact on many of our participants from their responses to other MIDUS Projects’ questions on health, financial, and emotional well-being.

Learn more about the national project and the 1000+ papers published from this research on the MIDUS website.

People Working on This Study

Richard J. Davidson
Founder, Center for Healthy Minds & Healthy Minds Innovations, William James & Vilas Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry
Lauren Gresham
Research Program Manager, Center for Healthy Minds
Stacey Schaefer
Stacey M. Schaefer
Scientist III, Center for Healthy Minds
Sasha Sommerfeldt2
Sasha Sommerfeldt
Graduate Student, Department of Psychology and the Center for Healthy Minds
Anna Finley Web
Anna J. Finley
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Center for Healthy Minds
Sarah Skinner
Sarah E. Skinner
Associate Research Specialist, Center for Healthy Minds

Related Publications

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
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
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
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
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
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
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. (2020). Emodiversity, health, and well-being in the MIDUS daily diary study. Emotiondoi:10.1037/emo0000753. PMCID:PMC7544683
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