Age Differences in Positive Feelings and Their Expression

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Although various studies point to the importance of positive emotions for health and well-being across the entire life span, current research on age differences in emotional reactivity mainly focuses on negative emotions. Empirical evidence on positive emotions is scarce and mixed. Part of the inconsistencies may be related to study differences in the stimuli used and the emotional response systems considered. Thus, the present study examined different response systems (i.e., subjective feelings, facial and verbal expressions) and used internal stimuli of high personal relevance to all participants. More specifically, we used a modified relived emotion task in which younger (M = 25.64, SD = 4.05) and older (M = 70.06, SD = 3.94) adults first privately relived emotions associated with a recent positive event in their life, and subsequently thought aloud about this event and its accompanying feelings. We additionally explored whether conscientiousness, as a marker of self-regulatory skills, is associated with interindividual and age-related differences in positive emotions. During the relived emotion task, there were no age differences in positive feelings; however, compared with young adults, older adults reported more positive feelings during the think-aloud phase. Contrary to our prediction, however, older adults verbally and nonverbally expressed fewer positive emotions than their younger counterparts. Moreover, conscientiousness was associated with individual and age-related differences in positive feelings, pointing to the potential explanatory role of self-regulatory skills in the experience of positive emotions.

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