Research on age differences in emotional responses to daily stress has produced inconsistent findings. Guided by recent theoretical advances in aging theory (S. T. Charles, 2010, Strength and vulnerability integration: A model of emotional well-being across adulthood, Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 136, pp. 1068-1091) that emphasize the importance of context for predicting when and how age is related to affective well-being, the current study examined age differences in emotional responses to everyday stressors. The present study examined how three contextual features (e.g., timing of exposure, stressor severity, global perceived stress [GPS]) moderate age differences in emotional experience in an ecological momentary assessment study of adults (N = 190) aged 18-81 years. Results indicated that older adults' negative affect (NA) was less affected by exposure to recent stressors than younger adults, but that there were no age differences in the effects of stressor exposure 3-6 hr afterward. Higher levels of GPS predicted amplified NA responses to daily stress, and controlling for GPS eliminated age differences in NA responses to stressors. No age differences in NA responses as a function of stressor severity were observed. In contrast, older age was associated with less of a decrease in PA when exposed to recent stressors or with more severe recent stressors. There were no age differences in the effect of previous stressor exposure or severity on PA, or any interactions between momentary or previous stress and GPS on PA. Together, these results support the notion that chronic stress plays a central role in emotional experience in daily life. We discuss the implications of these results for emotion theories of aging.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Geriatrics and Gerontology