Older adults control emotions more easily than young adults

March 9th, 2009 - 4:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 9 (IANS) Older people are better able to manage emotions than their younger counterparts, according to a study.
The research study found that reducing negative emotions or inhibiting unwanted thoughts is a resource-demanding process that disrupts the ability of young adults to simultaneously or subsequently perform tasks.

“This study is among the first to demonstrate that the costs of emotion regulation vary across age groups,” said Fredda Blanchard-Fields, chair of Georgia Institute of Technology School of Psychology who conducted the research, along with Susanne Scheibe, post doctoral fellow.

The study - which included 72 young adults who were 20 to 30 years old and 72 adults who were 60 to 75 years old - was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Three-fourths of the participants watched a two-minute ‘Fear Factor’ TV clip depicting a woman eating something revolting in order to win money. The video was intended to induce a feeling of disgust in the participants.

The remaining participants comprising the control group watched a two-minute clip of two men talking about a woman’s dress and subsequently sharing a beer in silence that was not intended to induce emotions.

After watching one of the videos, each participant played a computer memory game. For the task, a number - between zero and nine - appeared on a computer screen and each participant had to determine whether that number matched the number that appeared on the screen two numbers earlier.

Twenty-two trials were presented before the task concluded and a combined performance score was computed.

The study showed that all of the participants performed better at the working memory task after watching the clip than before, likely due to the learning process. However, after being told to turn their disgust into positive feelings, the young adults performed significantly worse than the older adults in the memory task.

Older adults who were given the same instructions continued to improve at the memory task, said a Georgia release.

“Negative emotions can be toxic and disrupt one’s balance in life, so the ability of older adults to regulate negative emotions serves to enhance their quality of life,” noted Blanchard-Fields.

“Older adults are so efficient at dealing with their emotions that it doesn’t cost them any decrease in performance, which is a really positive thing,” she added.

These findings were published in the March issue of Psychology and Aging.

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