Older adults show positivity effects in their attention toward emotional stimuli; using stationary eye tracking, our past work has found that older adults fixate less on negative stimuli. More recent work with mobile eye tracking suggests that, in some cases, older adults may also select fewer negative situations to interact with than younger adults. There is also evidence that older adults are more effective at positive reappraisal than younger adults. These are three ways in which older adults may display more positivity in their processing of emotional information, and potentially their emotion regulation than do younger adults. While age-related positivity effects were originally conceptualized as part of Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (SST), they may also have implications for emotion regulation. The current application aims to empirically marry the SST-based approach to studying age-related positivity effects with the Process Model approach to studying emotion regulation, by examining age differences in positive forms of emotion regulation, such as positive looking and positive reappraisal. The application considers 2 questions: Are there are differences in preferences for different types of positive emotion regulation strategies, and are there are differences in the effectiveness of different positive emotion regulation strategies in terms of real-time mood change? Three studies will examine age differences in preferences and effectiveness of potentially positive emotion regulation strategies, from younger adulthood through midlife and into old age. Study 1 is a laboratory-based study that will investigate the rol of age in preferences for, and effectiveness of, the emotion regulation strategies specified in the Process Model: situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, cognitive change, and response modification. Study 2 will use experience sampling to investigate age differences in preferences for, and effectiveness of, these strategies in emotion regulation in everyday life. Study 3 will directly test whether shifting goals can account for age differences in the use and effectiveness of positive emotion regulation strategies. Findings will advance our understanding of aging and emotion regulation, and may suggest targets for intervention for those who are not able to regulate emotions successfully.

Public Health Relevance

This research will contribute to our understanding of the factors that influence emotion regulation and deregulation across the adult lifespan. In addition to implications for causes and treatment of mental health problems from young adulthood through midlife and into old age, this work could also have impact on the design of public health messages that would capture attention and be selected for further viewing in adults of different ages.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Social Psychology, Personality and Interpersonal Processes Study Section (SPIP)
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Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Northeastern University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Sands, Molly; Livingstone, Kimberly; Isaacowitz, Derek (2018) Characterizing age-related positivity effects in situation selection. Int J Behav Dev 42:396-404
Livingstone, Kimberly M; Isaacowitz, Derek M (2018) The roles of age and attention in general emotion regulation, reappraisal, and expressive suppression. Psychol Aging 33:373-383
Isaacowitz, Derek M; Ossenfort, Kathryn L (2017) Aging, Attention and Situation Selection: Older Adults Create Mixed Emotional Environments. Curr Opin Behav Sci 15:6-9
Isaacowitz, Derek M; Livingstone, Kimberly M; Castro, Vanessa L (2017) Aging and emotions: experience, regulation, and perception. Curr Opin Psychol 17:79-83
Sands, Molly; Garbacz, Adam; Isaacowitz, Derek M (2016) Just change the channel? Studying effects of age on emotion regulation using a TV watching paradigm. Soc Psychol Personal Sci 7:788-795
Livingstone, Kimberly M; Isaacowitz, Derek M (2015) Situation Selection and Modification for Emotion Regulation in Younger and Older Adults. Soc Psychol Personal Sci 6:904-910