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Age Advantages in Emotional Experience Persist Even Under Threat From the COVID-19 Pandemic

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posted on 2020-09-30, 23:22 authored by Laura L. Carstensen, Yochai Z. Shavit, Jessica T. BarnesJessica T. Barnes

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating unprecedented, sustained, and unavoidable stress for the entire population, with older people facing particularly heightened risk of contracting the virus and suffering severe complications including death. The present study was conducted when the pandemic was spreading exponentially in the United States. To address important theoretical questions about age differences in emotional experience in times of crisis, we surveyed a representative sample of 945 Americans aged 18-76 and assessed the frequency and intensity of a range of positive and negative emotions. We also assessed perceived risk of contagion and complications from the virus, as well as personality, health, and demographic characteristics. Age was associated with relatively greater emotional well-being with and without controlling for perceived risk and other covariates. Findings extend previous research about age and emotion by demonstrating that older adults’ relatively better emotional well-being persists even in the face of prolonged stress.

Accepted for COVID-19 fast-track publication in Psychological Science.


Socioemotional Functioning in Adulthood and Old Age

National Institute on Aging

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Declaration of conflicts of interest


Corresponding author email

Lead author country

  • United States

Lead author job role

  • Higher Education Faculty 4-yr College

Lead author institution

Stanford University

Human Participants

  • Yes

Ethics statement

The study was approved by Stanford University’s Institutional Review Board, and informed consent was obtained from all participants.


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