Up to 80% of those over age 65 report experiencing some degree of physical pain, yet older adults appear remarkably adept at maintaining positive emotionality in the face of pain. Whereas studies find that older adults are at least as good at managing pain as their younger counterparts, the strategies they use to do so remain largely unknown. Guided by a socio-emotional selectivity framework which posits that older adults strategically use positivity-enhancing mechanisms, the proposed research has a primary aim of investigating whether older and younger adults differ in their use of positivity mechanisms to maintain positive affect in the face of pain. Additionally, little is known about the factors that make some older adults better able to cope with pain than others. Previous research has shown that high levels of executive functioning (EF) and heart rate variability (HRV) predict positive physical health outcomes for those experiencing pain, but no research to date has examined how individual differences in these factors interact with pain to influence positive affect. Thus, the proposed project has a second aim of testing whether EF or HRV moderate the relationship between pain and maintenance of positive affect in older adults. Both of the aims of the project contribute to a larger goal of expanding theoretical knowledge of factors contributing to health and psychological wellbeing in older age. The proposed project will allow the PI to gain invaluable skills and expand on his previous research experiences by using experimental laboratory and archival data to test hypotheses pertaining to both aims. In the laboratory study, older and younger adults will be asked to provide affect, EF, and HRV data. They will be randomly assigned to a painful or non-painful task. After the pain task, participants will undergo tasks assessing positivity mechanisms and will then be asked to provide a final affect rating. An archival longitudinal dataset of community-dwelling older adults will be used to test whether pain levels interact with EF within people to predict positive affect. It is hypothesized that 1) when i pain, older adults will use positivity-enhancing mechanisms with greater success than younger adults;2) older adults will maintain positive affect following pain better than younger adults;an 3) those with better EF and HRV will be most effective at maintaining positive affect in the face of pain. In addition to providing theoretical insight into how positive affect is maintained after pain, the project will contribute to a larger objective of promoting diversity in health research b providing the PI - a Hispanic first generation college student - a training opportunity to develop the skills necessary to become an independent researcher. To this end, the project includes a detailed plan designed to build on and expand the PI's ability to disseminate cutting-edge research, learn novel statistical and methodological techniques, and expand his research program on the psychological and physiological consequences of the pain experience.

Public Health Relevance

Older adults are able to maintain positive affect despite physical pain as well as or better than younger adults, but little is known how such affect is maintained. This project aims to test whether older adults use positivity- enhancing mechanisms differently than younger adults after experiencing acute physical pain, and test the factors that allow some adults to manage pain better than others. The project will support the PI, a Hispanic first-generation college student, in his goal to develop a research program on the psychological and physiological consequences of the pain experience.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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University of Kentucky
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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