A Prospective Study of Age Differences in Consequences of Emotional Control in Women Referred to Clinical Mammography

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Abstract

Age differences in emotional control and their consequences were examined in women referred to mammography on the suspicion of breast cancer but with benign results of the examination. Under natural experimental conditions, the levels of emotional control and distress were measured 1 week prior to the examination as well as 4 and 12 weeks after the examination in 717 younger women (ages 19-39), middle-aged women (ages 40-59), and older women (ages 60-85). A higher level of emotional control was found in the older women; this indicates that, in these birth cohorts, emotion-focused coping is more prevalent in old age than in young adulthood, even when similar stressors are experienced. The analyses revealed an interaction between age and emotional control; higher levels of control were related to a reduction in distress during the course of the study in older women, whereas emotional control was unrelated to changes in distress in younger and middle-aged women. The findings support the life span theory of control, which suggests that secondary control strategies are more adaptive in old age.

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