Better With Age: Study Finds Older People More Emotionally Stable, Less Volatile

DURHAM, N.C. — Older adults have been portrayed as grumpy, unreasonable, and generally angry in countless movies and television shows. An image of an annoyed old man angrily yelling at the neighborhood kids to “get off my lawn!” immediately comes to mind. However, according to a new study, perhaps those depictions should show the elderly inviting the neighborhood to their lawn for a BBQ instead.

That’s because researchers from Duke and Vanderbilt universities have concluded that older adults are generally quite happy, more emotionally stable, and better equipped to resist life’s many temptations.

“There is evidence here that emotional health and regulation improve with age,” says Daisy Burr, a Duke PhD student, in a press release.

A total of 123 people between the ages of 20 and 80 took part in the research. Each participant was pinged on their cell phone three times each day for a total of 10 days. These pings asked the participants to describe how they were feeling using a five-point rating system. More specifically, eight emotional states were surveyed, including relaxation, sluggishness, enthusiasm, and contentment.

Additionally, participants were asked if they were craving or desiring anything throughout the day. Substances and activities like sex, alcohol, cigarettes, social media, shopping, and sleep were surveyed. For each ping, participants could report up to three desires.

Finally, each person’s “global life satisfaction” was also assessed, meaning their overall well-being beyond mere moment-to-moment mood fluctuations.

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The research team was especially interested in how people’s self-reported positive & negative feelings varied depending on the age group, and different generations’ abilities to resist temptations.

All in all, they found that older adults are much more stable emotionally and “less volatile in their emotions.” It also appears that with old age comes the ability to resist day-to-day temptations like that fourth beer or extra cigarette.

According to study co-author Gregory Samanez-Larkin, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, people’s goals in life change dramatically as they age. The elderly are “trying to maximize well-being every day. You want to feel good as much as possible,” he explains.

The research team are quite confident in their findings because participants were able record responses during the course of their normal day-to-day life, not in a lab setting that may have influenced their answers.

It was also noted that when an individual of any age is feeling particularly down or depressed, it’s harder for that person to resist their temptations. That being said, even depressed older adults were still better at controlling their desires in comparison to younger people.

The study is published in Emotion.

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