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Emotion regulation in the face of loss: How detachment, positive reappraisal, and acceptance shape experiences, physiology, and perceptions in late life.

  • Author(s): Rompilla, David B;
  • Hittner, Emily F;
  • Stephens, Jacquelyn E;
  • Mauss, Iris;
  • Haase, Claudia M
  • et al.

How individuals regulate emotions in the face of loss has important consequences for well-being and health, but we know little about which emotion regulation strategies are most effective for older adults for whom loss is ubiquitous. The present laboratory-based study examined effects of three emotion regulation strategies (i.e., detachment, positive reappraisal, or acceptance in response to film clips depicting loss) on subjective emotional experiences, physiology, and perceptions of emotion regulation success and motivation in healthy older adults (N = 129, age range = 64-83). Results showed that, first, detachment decreased emotional experiences across the board; positive reappraisal decreased negative and increased positive emotional experiences; while acceptance did not alter emotional experiences. Second, detachment decreased physiological arousal (driven by increases in interbeat interval and decreases in respiration rate) whereas positive reappraisal and acceptance did not alter physiological arousal compared with "just watch" trials. Third, individuals felt most successful and willing to put forth their best effort when implementing acceptance, while they felt least successful and least willing to put forth their best effort for positive reappraisal. These findings illuminate longstanding discussions regarding how individuals can best regulate emotions in the face of loss. They show that older adults can regulate their emotional experiences and (to a lesser extent) their physiology with detachment numbing emotional experiences and decreasing physiological arousal; positive reappraisal brightening emotional experiences; and acceptance resulting in the highest perceptions of success and motivation. Thus, each emotion regulation strategy appears to be most effective in specific domains for older adults. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

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