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The Role of Autobiographical Memory Recall in Reappraisal Efficacy and Effort Across Age

Socioemotional theories posit that the experience of overcoming unique life challenges over a lifetime enhances self-efficacy and emotional resilience among older adults. Older adults demonstrate greater emotional well-being and motivation to regulate emotions than younger adults, but specific regulatory mechanisms supporting late-life emotional resilience remain unclear. Cognitive reappraisal is an effective but cognitively demanding emotion regulation strategy and shows mixed efficacy in later-life. While a growing repertoire of autobiographical memories may be a resource with age, the role of autobiographical recall in momentary reappraisal has never been tested empirically. In this online study, older and younger adults were trained to reappraise the meaning of negative images as more positive by associating them either to any relevant autobiographical memory from the past (n=153), a specific cued autobiographical memory (reappraisal, n=118), or without autobiographical reference (n=156). Results revealed all strategies to be effective in regulating negative image intensity across age. While older adults outperformed younger adults in the non-AM condition, the opposite was observed for uncued AM reappraisals, and no age differences were found for cued AM reappraisals. Non-AM reappraisal was easiest to employ for all participants, and older adults reported all reappraisal strategies as easier than younger adults. While older adults found their AMs more helpful and more similar to reappraised images than younger adults, AM- image similarity was surprisingly associated with lower reappraisal efficacy. Findings suggests that AM reappraisal benefits are mixed for older adults, likely due to efficacy but higher associated cognitive burden of AM recall. We posit that older adults may sacrifice immediate hedonic relief, to engage with challenging but helpful emotion regulation strategies. We discuss limitations of this study, and areas for future directions to substantiate interpretations further.