Age-Related Changes in Older Adults’ Anger and Sadness: The Role of Perceived Control

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Abstract

This longitudinal study examined the experience of sadness and anger in a sample of older adults. Based on the discrete emotion theory of affective aging, it was expected that sadness, but not anger, would increase in older adulthood over time. In addition, we hypothesized that inter- and intraindividual differences in low perceptions of control would be more strongly associated with sadness than anger. The 10-year study followed 187 community-dwelling older adults (Mage = 72.25, SDage = 5.81). At each of six waves, participants’ levels of sadness, anger, perceived control, and sociodemographic characteristics were assessed. Hierarchical linear modeling demonstrated that sadness, but not anger, linearly increased over time. These increases in sadness were evident only among older adults who reported low (but not high) levels of perceived control across the study period, and who experienced longitudinal declines (but not increases) in perceived control. In addition, nonlinear within-person reductions in perceived control predicted participants’ sadness in the entire sample, but were associated with anger only in early, and not in advanced, old age. These findings support the discrete emotion theory of affective aging by documenting the distinctiveness of older adults’ anger and sadness. These two negative emotions differ in terms of both age-related changes and predictive person-related perceptions of control.

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