Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Suzanne C. Segerstrom

Abstract

Despite having fewer cognitive resources, older adults regulate their emotions as well as, if not better than, younger adults. This study aimed to (1) test the limits of older adults’ emotion regulation capacity and (2) gain a better understanding of how older adults use their more limited resources to regulate their emotions. Participants included 48 healthy older adults aged 65-85 from the community and 50 healthy younger adults aged 18-25 from the student population. They were randomly assigned to one of four experimental groups involving an initial activity that was high or low in self-regulatory demand followed by a test task of emotion regulation or attention regulation. As expected, older adults performed equally as well as younger adults on the emotion regulation test task, though worse on the attention regulation test task. Using resting heart rate variability (HRV) as a physiological measure of self-regulatory capacity, older adults appeared to allocate more resources toward the emotion regulation task compared to the attention regulation task, and relative to younger adults. The results suggest that older adults maintain their emotion regulation capacity in part by allocating more resources toward emotion regulation goals.

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