Eye tracking reveals changes in emotion regulation with age. We’ve all heard the advice to “look on the bright side” when we are feeling down – but is it good advice?
- Age Differences in Looking Patterns to Emotional Information
We next considered possible age differences in the tendency to look on the bright side of emotional stimuli.
- Linking Looking to Feeling
We have tried to test whether older adults’ tendency to look on the bright side is actually related to emotion regulation and effective outcomes. We have assessed mood using a potentiometer slider continuously at the same time as participants are having their eyes tracked: participants indicate their current mood by moving the slider.
- From Feeling to Doing
Older adults’ looking on the bright side may help them to regulate their emotional state, but what happens when the negative information they are looking less at in order to feel good is important and/or health-relevant. Older adults generally looked less at the negative emotional content and showed a faster emotion regulation response compared to their younger counterparts.
Learn about looking on the bright side
Whereas younger individuals may actually benefit – at least in terms of their moods – from looking more at the darker side of things, literally looking on the bright side of emotional stimuli seems to be a key tool for older adults to regulate their emotions, and it may not be associated with behavioral deficits. Put another way, older adults – at least in our investigations so far – do not seem to need to choose between mood and health: they are able to interact with the world in a way that helps them to regulate their mood while also engaging in positive health behavior.
Older adults may even use committing to engage in health behavior as a regulatory strategy itself, leading them to feel good and do good things as well. It may be that it is younger adults who must choose between regulating their emotions and engaging in health behaviors, as they did not regulate their moods as well and in some cases engaged in fewer health behaviors than did older adults; however, we have not yet tested whether younger adults could do better in different circumstances.
These patterns may have implications for the design of health messages. Younger adults may benefit from seeing “just the facts” so their emotion regulation attempts do not interfere with their ability to learn health information. Perhaps looking on the bright side can be harnessed to improve older adults’ health behavior; at the very least, older adults’ feeling good and behaving in health-promoting ways may not be mutually exclusive.