Elderly Show Their Emotional Know-How

By Bower, B. | Science News, June 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

Elderly Show Their Emotional Know-How


Bower, B., Science News


Scientists have documented a depressing list of memory and intellectual losses that mount as healthy adults advance into old age. A new study indicates, however, that when it comes to dealing with emotions, seniors rule.

From young adulthood to well past retirement age, positive emotions occur at a fairly constant rate, while the frequency of negative emotions declines markedly, a research team finds. Adults of all ages cite comparable intensities for the entire spectrum of emotions.

After bottoming out at around age 60, the amount of negative emotion experienced from day to day slowly rises, but it stays well below the peak level of people in their early 20s, reports psychologist Laura L. Carstensen of Stanford University, who directed the investigation.

Moreover, positive emotions linger longer, and negative ones make briefer intrusions as adults age, she says. Older people also tend to experience richer mixes of feelings, such as simultaneous anger at and affection for a close friend.

Carstensen described her investigation last week in Denver at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society.

"These findings support growing evidence that older people regulate their emotional states better than younger people," the Stanford researcher holds.

An earlier study, for instance, found that elderly spouses display particular expertise at reining in negative emotions while discussing trouble spots in their marriages (SN: 9/13/97, p.

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