Older people, it turned out, were the best at reinterpreting negative scenes in positive ways using positive reappraisal, a coping mechanism that draws heavily on life experience and lessons learned.
By contrast, the study's younger and middle-aged participants were better at using "detached reappraisal" to tune out and divert attention away from the unpleasant films. This approach draws heavily on the prefrontal brain's "executive function," a mechanism responsible for memory, planning and impulse control and that diminishes as we age.
Meanwhile, all three age groups were equally skilled at using behavior suppression to clamp down on their emotional responses. "Earlier research has shown that behavior suppression is not a very healthy way to control emotions," Levenson said.
The study concludes that, "older adults may be better served by staying socially engaged and using positive reappraisal to deal with stressful challenging situations rather than disconnecting from situations that offer opportunities to enhance quality of life."
In another study, published in the July issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers used similar methods to test how our sensitivity to sadness changes as we age.
In that experiment, 222 healthy adults in their 20s, 40s and 60s were wired with physiological sensors and instructed to view the same film clips from "21 Grams" and "The Champ." The older cohort showed more sadness in reaction to emotionally charged scenes, compared to their younger counterparts.
"In late life, individuals often adopt different perspectives and goals that focus more on close interpersonal relationships," said UC Ber
|Contact: Yasmin Anwar|
University of California - Berkeley