Aging studies suggest older people are happier

February 16, 2012 By Angela Herring
Lab manager Julia Harris (right) places glasses with a mobile tracking device on Derek Isaacowitz, associate professor of psychology, in the Lifespan Emotional Development Lab (LEDlab). Credit: Mary Knox Merrill.

(Medical Xpress) -- We get wrinkles. Our hair turns gray, or we lose it altogether. Our job prospects diminish and our chances of incurring disease increase. Researchers across the globe focus their efforts on increasing our life span because so many of us believe getting old stinks.

But that may not be so, according to Derek Isaacowitz a newly appointed associate professor of in the College of Science. Contrary to popular opinion, he says, older people are happier than their younger counterparts.

“Self-report studies of typically find that older people are happier,” Isaacowitz explains. But for the psychologist, who joined the Northeastern faculty after spending a decade at Brandeis, self-reporting is not enough. He wants to know why older people are happier.

To tackle this question, he employs a state-of-the-art testing method not typically used in aging research: eye tracking.

Eye tracking, he says, follows a participant’s eye movements by taking 60 snapshots of his or her pupils each second. Isaacowitz couples self-reports of mood with eye tracking data to pinpoint exactly what a person is looking at while rating his or her mood.

“We can analyze data in a moment to say, ‘how does what you’re looking at relate to what you feel?’” Isaacowitz says.

Results revealed that older and younger participants might regulate their emotions in vastly different ways. As Isaacowitz puts it, “One way of regulating emotion is to change your thinking about something, to see something upsetting and say ‘no’.” This seems to be the strategy of most younger test subjects.

On the other hand, tend to look at negative images less often, possibly indicating that they regulate emotion by distracting themselves from negative stimuli.

Isaacowitz says this makes sense, since the elderly tend to have fewer resources than the young: “If I made you really tired or gave you something else to do, it would be easier to distract instead of reappraise.”

While Isaacowitz’ research has already confirmed a cognitive difference between older and younger people, many questions remain about how this difference may relate to the role of age in regulating day-to-day emotion.

Isaacowitz was eager to join the Affective Science Institute at Northeastern and help advance the university’s strength in aging research. He says his lab on campus will conduct a number of new studies, including an analysis of subjects in a more natural environment. “We’ll be nicely set up to do that in the lab here,” he says.

Explore further: Better research is needed to understand why elders are happier

Related Stories

Better research is needed to understand why elders are happier

January 6, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Older people tend to be happier. But why? Some psychologists believe that cognitive processes are responsible—in particular, focusing on and remembering positive events and leaving behind negative ...

Older adults spot phoney smiles better, study shows

April 12, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- Your great aunt may be slowing down as she grows older, but a study created in a Brandeis laboratory reveals that she’s probably better than you are at perceiving a genuine smile.

How we create false memories: Assessing memory performance in older adults

November 4, 2011
A new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, published online October 26 addresses the influence of age-related stereotypes on memory performance and memory errors in older ...

The brain acts fast to reappraise angry faces

November 15, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- If you tell yourself that someone who’s being mean is just having a bad day—it’s not about you—you may actually be able to stave off bad feelings, according to a new study which will ...

Older people not as good at lying or detecting lies: study

May 27, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Older people cannot lie as convincingly as younger people, are worse at detecting when others are lying, and the latter is linked to age-related decline in emotion recognition, new University of Otago ...

Recommended for you

Researchers find common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101

December 12, 2017
In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of several hundred citizens over the age of 90. Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San ...

Your mood depends on the food you eat, and what you should eat changes as you get older

December 11, 2017
Diet and dietary practices differentially affect mental health in young adults versus older adults, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

New therapy can help schizophrenia sufferers re-engage socially

December 11, 2017
A new therapy aimed at helping young people suffering from schizophrenia to reconnect and engage with the world around them has had promising results, according to a new University of Sussex-led study.

Twitter can reveal our shared mood

December 11, 2017
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns ...

Certain books can increase infant learning during shared reading, study shows

December 11, 2017
Parents and pediatricians know that reading to infants is a good thing, but new research shows reading books that clearly name and label people and objects is even better.

Many different types of anxiety and depression exist, new study finds

December 8, 2017
Five new categories of mental illness that cut across the current more broad diagnoses of anxiety and depression have been identified by researchers in a Stanford-led study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.