Age Differences in Emotional Well-Being Vary by Temporal Recall

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Abstract

Objective:

Older adults often appraise and remember events less negatively than younger adults. These tendencies may influence reports that rely more on nonexperiential, reconstructive processes. As such, the current study examined whether age differences may be more pronounced for reports of emotions that span across increasingly longer temporal epochs compared to reports of more proximal emotional experiences.

Method:

Participants (aged 25–74 during Burst 1) from the Midlife in the United States Survey and the National Study of Daily Experiences reported the negative affect they experienced across a month, a week, and throughout the day at two measurement bursts 10 years apart.

Results:

Across all negative affect measures, older age was related to lower levels of negative affect. The effect of age, however, varied across the three temporal epochs, such that age differences were smallest when people reported their daily negative affect and greatest when they reported their monthly negative affect.

Discussion:

Taking into account how emotion reports differ based on method provides a more realistic picture of emotional experience in adulthood. Findings suggest that age differences in emotional experiences vary based on whether questions ask about short versus longer time periods. Age advantages are most pronounced when people recall emotions across increasingly longer periods of time.

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