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Age Group Differences in Affect Responses to a Stressor

Older adults may be better able to modulate their emotional experiences than younger adults, and thus may recover more quickly from negative stressors. Additionally, older adults may be more likely to experience co-occurrence of negative and positive emotions in the setting of negative stressors, which may facilitate emotion recovery. To date, few studies have investigated the nature of age group differences in spontaneous emotional responses to a standardized stressor. The current study utilizes a laboratory mood manipulation to determine age group differences in emotion recovery in negative and positive affects, as well as age group differences in the co-occurrence of negative and positive affect. Older adults reported greater reactivity in one and greater recovery in two negative affect scales than younger adults; however, these differences did not remain significant when controlling for overall arousal ratings of the mood induction. There were no age group differences in reactivity or recovery of positive affects. Both younger and older adults returned to baseline in negative affects by the end of the recovery period despite age group differences in affect responses and arousal ratings. Older adults reported greater co-occurrence of negative and positive emotions in response to the mood induction as compared to younger adults. Overall, these results provide support for age group similarities in reactivity and recovery in discrete affects, and age group differences in mixed emotion states. Greater co-occurrence appears to reflect greater baseline endorsement of positive affect in older as compared to younger adults. Thus, higher baseline positive affect may create greater opportunities for older adults to experience mixed emotion states, which may in turn serve as an adaptive resource for older adults.