Ageing and emotion regulation
University of Southampton
The thesis commences with a review of trends in declining psychological disorders as a person ages. These findings are understood in terms of differences between older and
younger adults’ emotion processing. Socio-emotional selectivity theory is introduced as one account of these age differences. Literature is reviewed which illustrates how certain emotion regulation strategies are utilised differently in older and younger adults. The consequences of these emotion regulation strategies on affect, cognition and mental and physical health are illustrated. Inconsistencies and gaps in the literature are discussed and suggestions made for future research. Following from this, the empirical paper examines the use of emotion
regulation strategies across the life span and the effect of these strategies on emotional awareness and psychological distress. A cross sectional design was used and the findings suggest that older adults make greater use of the emotion regulation strategy, suppression
compared to younger and middle aged adults. This greater use of suppression by older adults was not related to greater reporting of psychological distress. By contrast, younger adults who reported high levels of suppression also reported higher levels of psychological distress.
Older adults reported less anxiety and stress than younger adults, with no age differences in depression. Contrary to predictions, we found no relationship between suppression and emotional awareness. These data suggest a decoupling of the use of emotional suppression and psychological distress with age. These findings were understood in terms of differences in types of stressors experienced with age and a shift towards emotion regulation goals.
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