Elderly control emotions better than young adults
While regulating a feeling of disgust, elderly carry out memory-intensive tasks better than young adults, says a new study.health and fitness Updated: Mar 05, 2009 19:10 IST
While regulating a feeling of disgust, elderly carry out memory-intensive tasks better than young adults, says a new study.
The study, published in the March issue of the journal Psychology and Aging, found that regulating emotions - such as reducing negative emotions or inhibiting unwanted thoughts - is a resource-demanding process that disrupts the ability of young adults to simultaneously or subsequently perform tasks.
"This study is among the first to demonstrate that the costs of emotion regulation vary across age groups," said Fredda Blanchard-Fields, chair of Georgia Tech's School of Psychology and the study's lead author.
The study included 72 young adults who were 20 to 30 years old and 72 adults who were 60 to 75 years old.
For investigation, three-fourths of the participants watched a two-minute Fear Factor television clip depicting a woman eating something revolting in order to win money.
The video was intended to induce a feeling of disgust in the participants. The remaining participants comprising the control group watched a two-minute clip of two men talking about a woman's dress and subsequently sharing a beer in silence that was not intended to induce emotions.
After watching one of the videos, each participant played a computer memory game. For the task, a number - between zero and nine - appeared on a computer screen and each participant had to determine whether that number matched the number that appeared on the screen two numbers earlier. Twenty-two trials were presented before the task concluded and a combined performance score was computed.
"To compare the effect that a person's emotion regulation strategies had on his or her performance at the working memory task, the participants who watched the disgust-inducing film were divided into three groups and given different emotion-regulatory instructions," explained Blanchard-Fields.
One group was told to change their negative reaction to the disgusting television clip into positive feelings as quickly as possible and another group was advised to maintain the intensity of their negative reaction to the video and to not change their feelings in any way. A third group received no instructions.
The control group that watched the neutral video of the men drinking beer also received no instructions. The volunteers then completed two additional memory games.
The study showed that all of the participants performed better at the working memory task after watching the clip than before, likely due to the learning process. However, after being told to turn their disgust into positive feelings, the young adults performed significantly worse than the older adults in the memory task. Older adults who were given the same instructions continued to improve at the memory task.
"Negative emotions can be toxic and disrupt one's balance in life, so the ability of older adults to regulate negative emotions serves to enhance their quality of life," noted Blanchard-Fields.