Older people have a hard time keeping a lid on their feelings, especially when viewing heartbreaking or disgusting scenes in movies and reality shows, psychologists have found. But they’re better than their younger counterparts at seeing the positive side of a stressful situation and empathizing with the less fortunate, according to research from the University of California, Berkeley.
A team of researchers led by UC Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson is tracking how our emotional strategies and responses change as we age. Their findings – published over the past year in peer-review journals – support the theory that emotional intelligence and cognitive skills can actually sharpen as we enter our 60s, giving older people an advantage in the workplace and in personal relationships.
“Increasingly, it appears that the meaning of late life centers on social relationships and caring for and being cared for by others,” Levenson said. “Evolution seems to have tuned our nervous systems in ways that are optimal for these kinds of interpersonal and compassionate activities as we age.”
In the first study, researchers looked at how 144 healthy adults in their 20s, 40s and 60s reacted to neutral, sad and disgusting film clips. In particular, they examined how participants used techniques known as “detached appraisal,” “positive reappraisal” and “behavior suppression.” Heading up that study was Michelle Shiota, now an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona St