The present study assessed age-related differences in the success of instructed mindful attention and positive reappraisal, as well as trait affect and emotion regulation.
Young and older adults were instructed to regulate their emotions while viewing frightening and amusing films using three separate instructions (just watch, positive reappraisal, or mindful attention). Participants rated the strength of their experience of the target emotion (fear or amusement) and success in following the instruction to regulate. Electrodermal activity was recorded continuously, and facial electromyography measured positive and negative facial expression. Trait measures of affect and emotion regulation were also administered.
Electrodermal activity provided strong evidence that young adults successfully regulate fear using mindful attention and positive reappraisal relative to a just watch condition. Older adults’ electrodermal activity is was constant across conditions, and lower than young adults’ in the just watch condition, suggesting general hyporeactivity to fear. Subjective data suggest that young, but not older, adults successfully downregulate amusement using mindful attention.
These findings provide some evidence for emotion regulation benefits in young relative to older age. However, these youthful benefits may reflect reduced initial reactivity among older adults.