Do Everyday Affective Experiences Differ Throughout Adulthood?: A Review of Ambulatory-Assessment Evidence
Michaela Riediger and Antje Rauers
Do adults from different age groups vary in the intensity or the variability of their everyday affective experiences? Are there age-related differences in the likelihood of encountering, and in the intensity of affectively reacting to, affect-eliciting events in daily life? Do individuals from different age groups differ in the complexity of their everyday affective lives? We review evidence on these questions currently available from ambulatory assessment studies. Ambulatory assessment refers to a group of research techniques—such as diary or experience sampling methods—that repeatedly capture everyday experiences as they naturally occur in people’s daily lives. We summarize the strengths and challenges of ambulatory assessment methods, discuss the available evidence from ambulatory assessment studies on age differences in everyday affective experiences and stability, and summarize research on possible factors that may contribute to these effects. Here, we address findings on age differences in the likelihood of encountering distressing experiences, on age differences in people’s affective reactions to such events, and on age differences in people’s affect regulation orientations. We also review ambulatory assessment evidence on age differences in the complexity of everyday affective experiences.
Gisela Labouvie-Vief, Anne-Laure Gilet, and Nathalie Mella
In this chapter, we discuss Fredda Blanchard-Fields’ important contribution to the understanding of emotional regulation in later life by relating it to a recent cognitive-developmental theory (Dynamic Integration Theory [DIT]) that posits joint development and aging of the cognitive-executive and emotional systems. This conception, inspired by the work of Jean Piaget, describes cognitive-emotional development during the first part of the lifespan as a process in which the capacity for sustaining emotional tension becomes raised as higher order cognitive representations become part of a common regulatory network. This process raises the functional tension threshold range over which emotional equilibrium is maintained. In contrast to earlier development, aging is characterized by a lowering of tension thresholds that brings greater vulnerability to high levels of activation in conditions that are novel and involve a great deal of effort. In contrast, well-automated knowledge and crystallized knowledge can provide a degree of buffering against these negative changes and is, at times, even related to increases in the depth and integration of experience.
Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Eric Allard, and Anne C. Krendl
Many of the benefits conveyed to memory by socioemotional processing are preserved even as adults age. Like young adults, older adults are more likely to remember emotional information than neutral information and to benefit from self-referential processing of information. There is, however, one age-related change in emotional memory that has garnered widespread discussion in the psychological literature: the “positivity effect,” or the tendency for older adults to remember proportionally more positive information than do young adults. This essay discusses how an affective neuroscience perspective is revealing what aspects of socioemotional processing change with aging, shedding light on why aging preserves the memory benefits conveyed by socioemotional processing while at the same time influencing the valence of information that is most likely to be remembered.
JoNell Strough and Emily J. Keener
In this chapter, we review research on interpersonal everyday problem solving from adolescence through old age. First, we provide a brief history of the emergence of research on interpersonal everyday problem solving as a distinct area of inquiry. We then outline a contextual and motivational model of interpersonal everyday problem solving across the lifespan. Drawing from this model, we discuss how dimensions of interpersonal relationships, in tandem with normative developmental tasks, give rise to age and gender differences in problem-solving goals and strategies. We review research that investigates links between goals and strategies, and evidence suggesting that goals may explain age and gender differences in problem-solving strategies. We also consider the extent to which a match between goals and strategies serves as an index of problem-solving effectiveness. We conclude by offering suggestions for future research.
Goals, Strategies, and Well-Being Across Adulthood: Integrating Perspectives From the Coping and Everyday Problem-Solving Literatures
Abby Heckman Coats, Christiane Hoppmann, and Stacey Scott
How older adults cope with stress and handle everyday problems has been an important focus in adult developmental research. The extent to which individuals manage hassles in their lives predicts important outcomes that have implications for their independence and ability to age successfully. Traditionally, coping research has emerged from a clinical background, whereas everyday problem-solving research has emerged from a cognitive background. The aim of this chapter is to review research in coping and everyday problem solving with an eye toward integrating them. We review the history of coping and everyday problem-solving research, focusing on the importance of individuals’ goals and the strategies individuals use to reach those goals. We discuss possible mechanisms underlying age differences in these strategies. We also address the challenge of determining what constitutes effective coping and everyday problem solving. The field would benefit from considering interdisciplinary perspectives as we consider ideas for future research.
Louise H. Phillips, Gillian Slessor, Phoebe E. Bailey, and Julie D. Henry
Adult aging influences the decoding of social and emotional cues. Older adults perform worse than younger adults in labeling some types of emotional expression from faces, bodies, and voices. Age-related declines also occur in following social cues from eye gaze. Other aspects of social perception show age-related stability, including automatic mimicry responses to emotional stimuli. There are also age-related improvements or positivity biases in some social perception tasks such as decoding information about smiles. Evidence to date indicates that age-related deficits in social perception are not caused by general cognitive or perceptual decline. Other plausible explanations for age effects on social perception include structural changes in the aging brain, or age-related alterations in motivational goals. To date, there is not enough direct evidence to evaluate these possibilities. It is important to learn more about how the social and emotion perception changes in old age influence everyday interpersonal interactions and well-being.
Catherine Riffin, Anthony D. Ong, and Cindy S. Bergeman
Theoretical models and empirical evidence support an association between positive emotions and enhanced physical health. In this essay, we describe the current state of knowledge regarding the health significance of positive emotions in later life. We begin by exploring the contribution of lifespan theories of aging to emotion research. We then provide an overview of existing empirical evidence relevant to the role of positive emotions and adult health and well-being. We conclude with a discussion of how the integration of theoretical models and empirical findings can inform future research exploring the health effects of positive emotions across the lifespan.
Putting Emotional Aging in Context: Contextual Influences on Age-Related Changes in Emotion Regulation and Recognition
Jennifer Tehan Stanley and Derek M. Isaacowitz
Emotion regulation and recognition do not take place in a vacuum; instead, these emotional processes happen in specific contexts. In this chapter, we highlight context effects in the study of socioemotional aging and consider in detail three forms of context that may be relevant for age effects on both emotion regulation and emotion recognition: perceiver context, stimulus context, and emotional context. After reviewing what is known in each of these three areas for both regulation and recognition differences with age, paying particular attention to those factors that moderate the age differences, we consider the implications for theory and research of focusing on context in the study of emotional aging.
Reconciling Cognitive Decline and Increased Well-Being With Age: The Role of Increased Emotion Regulation Efficiency
Erin Senesac Morgan and Susanne Scheibe
Despite decreases in cognitive control with advancing age, older adults maintain high levels of well-being. On the surface, this is surprising, given that emotion regulation, which is often associated with well-being, has been shown to require cognitive control. This chapter discusses three possible explanations for these seemingly contradictory findings, with a particular focus on the recent hypothesis that older adults regulate emotions more efficiently than young adults, therefore requiring less cognitive control for successful regulation.
Sarah J. Barber and Mara Mather
Stereotype threat occurs when people fear that poor performance on their part will confirm a negative, self-relevant stereotype. In response to this threat, people tend to underperform compared to their potential, thereby conforming to the stereotype. For example, older adults are stereotyped as having poorer memory abilities than younger adults; when this stereotype becomes salient to older adults, their memory performance decreases, thereby conforming to the stereotype. The current chapter provides an overview of when, how, and why stereotype threat impacts memory performance in older adults. In particular, we identify situations that lead to stereotype threat in the context of aging and memory. We also discuss the potential mechanisms underlying this effect within older adults and outline how individual differences can make older adults more, or less, susceptible to this form of stereotype threat. We conclude by discussing the potential implications, including those on health, of this form of stereotype threat and delineate future research avenues that remain unexplored.
Tasks, Capacities, and Tactics: A Skill-Based Conceptualization of Emotion Regulation Across the Lifespan
Nathan S. Consedine and Iris Mauss
Although widely asserted that emotion regulation improves with age, little empirical evidence is directly demonstrative of this claim. This essay examines the available work through the lens offered by developmental functionalism—a lifespan theory of emotion and emotion regulation. Following an outline of the theory and its emphasis on regulatory tasks, capacities, and tactics, the essay reviews experimental work testing age-related variation in emotion regulation. As predicted, depending on the specific skill, data indicate considerable variation in whether skills improve or decline with age. Although situational selection, positive reappraisal, use of social resource, and acceptance generally improve with age, regulatory skills relying on specific capacities (notably, executive processing) decline or remain unchanged. Patterns are interpreted in terms of age-related differences in regulatory tasks and capacities, as well as in the specific tactics used to accomplish particular regulatory ends. Directions for future empirical work are given.