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date: 17 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: emotion, emotion regulation, lifespan development, later life, reappraisal, acceptance, suppression, developmental functionalism

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