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Their comparative work has revealed other differences. Older adults in both the United States and China with them,” she says, “yet they were surprisingly similar to older adults born in the United States.” clearly demonstrated the positivity effect in the types Chung became interested in memory while studying of memories they recalled, but their shared positivity cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, where didn’t extend to their attitudes about aging. When asked her thesis advisor was Professor Lynn Hasher. Hasher to give five words or phrases to describe the changes developed the Inhibition Deficit Theory, which proposes that take place as we age, American adults used negative that as we age we aren’t as good at regulating which terms. Chinese older adults used more positive words information enters our working memory, making us like “wisdom” and “helping others.” Not only was their more distractable. Chung’s interest in aging and mem- outlook on aging significantly rosier, they also recalled ory was also spurred by her own grandfather’s struggle less negative information. with memory loss. “My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dis- “My grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I wanted to learn more about cognitive aging so that I could understand the reasons for his sufferings. I was also determined to examine the cross-cultural effects of aging.” ease and spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home in Hong Kong,” Chung says. “I wanted to learn more about cognitive aging so that I could understand the reasons for his sufferings. Due to some of his experiences, I was also determined to someday examine the cross-cultural effects of aging.” She completed her graduate work at Claremont Graduate University and post-doctoral research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now teaches courses in the fundamentals of psychology, statistics, and cognitive psychology at Mills. She is also a frequent speaker at College and alumnae events and has presented her research at conferences of the American Psychological Association, the International Neuropsychological Society, and others. For all of the nuanced ways that older people struggle to keep their brain capacity strong and robust, there “This shows that cultural differences do make a differ- are also some real physiological benefits to a few more ence in cognitive processing of information,” Chung says. candles on the birthday cake, Chung adds. As the brain Interestingly, her work also found that Chinese- ages, it shrinks—but not uniformly. The hippocampus, a American immigrant elders have a negative view of part of the brain that is involved in forming and storing aging, reflecting western culture, even if they live exclu- memory, doesn’t shrink much. Neither does the amyg- sively with other Chinese-American immigrants. dala, which processes emotion. The attitudes of a person’s current geographical loca- “Older adults can remember bigger vocabularies than tion, Chung says, is a much bigger factor in determining younger people. Our semantic memory increases as we a person’s attitude about growing old than researchers grow older,” Chung says. “Our memory function does expected. “You would expect that immigrants who have change, but those changes may not be as big as people just come here from China would bring their attitudes used to think.” ◆ Summer 2012   21

Mills Quarterly summer 2012

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