Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Suzanne C. Segerstrom


Socioemotional selectivity theory posits that as people age, they become motivated and successful at maximizing positive emotions and minimizing negative ones. Yet, 70% of older adults report physical pain, which is associated with negative affect. The strategies and resources that older adults use to maintain positive affect in the face of pain remain largely unknown. Specific positivity-enhancing strategies include recalling, recognizing, and responding to positive stimuli and prioritizing close over knowledgeable social partners. Executive functions (EF, i.e., task-switching, working memory, and inhibition) and heart rate variability (HRV) may be important resources for coping with pain. The current project used two studies to test whether older adults used positivityenhancing strategies and maintained emotional wellbeing following pain more than younger adults; associations with EF and HRV were also investigated. In Study 1, 50 older and 50 younger adults experienced a control and a pain condition, were given the chance to employ positivity-enhancing strategies, and provided EF and HRV data. Study 2 used longitudinal data from community-dwelling older adults (n =150) to test whether task-switching moderated the within-person relationship between pain and wellbeing. In Study 1, after the pain condition, younger adults demonstrated lesser preference toward knowledgeable social partners than older adults (γ = -0.15, p = .016). No other age group x pain condition x valence interactions were found. Older and younger adults did not differ in changes in positive or negative affect following pain. Task-switching and HRV were both associated with reduced preference for knowledgeable social partners following pain, but no other significant EF or HRV interactions were found. Study 2 failed to support the hypothesis that task-switching protected against pain-related declines in wellbeing. Future research on strategies that older adults use to maintain emotional wellbeing in the face of pain is needed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)