Age Differences in Emotion Regulation Strategy Use and Efficacy in Daily Life

Author: Victoria Allen

Allen, Victoria, 2019 Age Differences in Emotion Regulation Strategy Use and Efficacy in Daily Life, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Despite ageing related losses in health, cognition, and social roles, research shows that older adults often report high levels of emotional well-being compared with people in younger and middle-adulthood. This is referred to as the “paradox of ageing”. One possible explanation for this widely reported finding is that older adults use different, and in some

cases more effective, strategies to regulate their emotions compared with younger adults. Although a number of studies have examined age differences in emotion regulation (ER) in laboratory contexts, few have examined ER in everyday life contexts.

Building on ageing and ER literatures, this thesis includes a comprehensive review of empirical studies concerned with age differences in ER and reports on the results of a microlongitudinal study designed to assess ER use and efficacy in younger and older adults.Employing search terms related to ageing and ER, our systematic review identified 20

articles, including 23 relevant studies. Narrative synthesis was adopted to analyse the findings. Results of the systematic review suggested that development in adulthood is not

characterised by predictable, normative shifts in preferences for the use of different ER strategies, rather moderator variables are of crucial importance in shaping the emergence of

age differences in ER.

The primary focus of our micro-longitudinal study was examination of age differences in the use and efficacy of a broad range of ER strategies (e.g., situational avoidance, problem-solving, humour, distraction, cognitive reappraisal, acceptance, and expressive suppression), in the context of exposure to daily life stressors. Thirty eight younger (aged 17-28) and 44 older (aged 62 and over) adults provided demographic information at baseline assessment and completed measures concerned with daily stress, ER strategy use, and affect, as part of a 20-day diary study. ER efficacy was operationalised as the extent to which use of regulation strategies weakened the association between stress exposure and negative affect (NA). We observed minimal evidence of enhanced ER strategy use among older adults in both general daily use and use in the context of stress. Similarly, there was little evidence of consistent age differences in ER efficacy at the between-persons (i.e., differences between individuals) and within-persons (i.e., fluctuation day-to-day within individuals) levels, with one exception - at the between-persons level, greater use of acceptance related to weaker coupling of stress and NA (our index of regulatory efficacy), particularly among older adults. Cross-level interactions (i.e., interactive effects of between and within- person level factors) suggested that among older adults, there appears to be benefit associated with greater use of acceptance, cognitive reappraisal, problem-solving, and expressive suppression, lower levels of negative affect in the context of stress at higher levels of distraction use, and minimal effect of humour on affective outcomes. Findings highlight the importance of changing life contexts in influencing the nature, and effectiveness, of daily ER strategy use. Accordingly, to advance the field, consideration of the interaction of individual difference variables, situational factors, and specific regulation strategies is central.

Keywords: Age, emotion regulation, adult development

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Dr Tim Windsor