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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/32008

Title: Age-related Changes In Emotion Regulation Using A Startle Modulation Paradigm
Authors: Gojmerac, Christina
Advisor: Stuss, Donald
Department: Psychology
Keywords: emotion regulation
startle modulation
Issue Date: 17-Jan-2012
Abstract: Lifespan theories of emotion suggest that the ability to regulate emotion improves with age. The supporting evidence, however, is indirect: older adults pay less attention to negative events, remember less negative information, and report fewer experiences of negative emotion. Few studies directly measure emotion regulation by explicitly instructing older adults to modulate their feelings while exposed to emotion-evoking stimuli. The purpose of this thesis was to directly compare younger and older adults in their ability to modulate feelings to investigate whether aging results in decline, stability, or improvement in emotion regulation and also to examine potential mechanisms underlying regulation skills. The study employed a startle modulation paradigm to measure both emotional reactivity and regulation. Two experimental tasks (Stroop colour-word interference, reversal learning) were also administered to explore the relationship between emotion regulation and two theoretically-relevant processes: (a) cognitive control and (b) modification of learned emotional associations. There were three main findings: (1) emotional reactivity was preserved in older adults. Both age groups showed emotion-modulated startle (negative > neutral) during the pre-regulation viewing period; (2) age-related decline in emotion regulation was evident on an objective measure of emotion regulation (startle eyeblink reflex) but not on a subjective measure (self-ratings). Specifically, for older adults, startle eyeblink was not enhanced or attenuated following increase and decrease instructions, respectively. In contrast, both groups showed similar modulation of valence and arousal ratings by regulation instruction (increase > look > decrease); (3) for older adults, reversal learning performance correlated positively with the degree of reappraisal-related startle attenuation in the decrease condition, suggesting a possible mechanism for impaired down-regulation. These findings suggest that even when emotional reactivity is similar, older adults are less effective at modulating their physiological responses.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/32008
Appears in Collections:Doctoral

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