Are older adults grumpy? Kristin Good

GRUMPY ADULTS                                                                                                                        1


The stereotype that will be evaluated is whether or not older adults have more negative, or ‘grumpy’ attitudes as they become older. The research found had a variety of approaches and results that came to surprising conclusions about this stereotype.

SUMMARIES: Larcom & Isaacowitz (2009) went off of recent research that showed an improvement of emotional regulation with age. Using thirty-six older adults and twenty-seven younger adults, Larcom & Isaacowitz (2009) introduced a negative mood by using music as the negative stimuli while following up with different questioners on neuroticism, trait anxiety inventory, depressive symptoms, and dispositional optimism and pessimism. The results displayed that older adults showed a more rapid emotional regulation than younger adults (Larcom & Isaacowitz  2009). Scott, Ram, Smyth, Almeida, & Sliwinski, (2017) researched “the ecological momentary assessment design to examine how timing of daily stressors relates to age differences in negative emotional responses.” The participation pool consisted of twenty-five to sixty-five year olds that responded to mobile surveys for two weeks, up to five times daily. In these mobile surveys, participants were asked to report their current mood and the timing and exposure to stressors. In the first ten minutes of the stressor, results showed no age difference.  But, with more time from the stressor (over ten minutes), older adults showed less of a stressor-related increase (Scott et. al, 2017). Stanley & Isaacowitz (2011) focused their attention on identifying different subgroups “who exhibit distinct trajectories of mood-change across a relatively short time period.” Participants consisted of seventy-nine younger adults and 103 older adults that were asked to report their mood while viewing neutral faces and emotional faces. “The results are discussed from an adult developmental perspective, focusing on the increased

GRUMPY ADULTS                                                                                                                       2

variability of mood trajectories in the older adults and whether this is a reflection of adaptive functioning, or a potential harbinger of dysfunction” (Stanley & Isaacowitz, 2011). Charles et al, (2016) took 2,022 participants and analyzed the accessed emotional experience over the course of eight days. The participants would record the times they experienced negative effects, like stressors, by answering seven questions about those occurrences. They would also answer five questions about the positive events (uplifts) at the end of the day. “Findings indicate that older age is related to shorter durations of negative affect and longer durations of positive affect before adjusting for negative and positive events.” (Charles et al, 2016).


After reading more in depth on these articles, most of them do not give the stereotype any creditability. Three of the four research studies did not find a link between older adults and a baseline of negative emotions. If anything, that is more consistent than with younger adults (Larcom & Isaacowitz, 2009). These articles show that older adults are more able to regulate their emotions (Larcom & Isaacowitz, 2009), and had less of a stress related increase as time had passed since the negative stimuli had been removed (Scott et. al, 2017), and a shorter duration of negative emotions (Charles et al, 2016). It was also found that older adults experienced a higher duration of positive affect in comparison to younger adults (Charles et al, 2016). This connects to the stereotype because it actually claims the exact opposite. This is important because it shows no correlation to older adults being ‘old and grumpy.’

GRUMPY ADULTS                                                                                                                       3

On the other hand, Stanley & Isaacowitz, (2011) found that “some older adults were more likely than young adults to exhibit a trajectory of maintained and even increased negative mood over the course of the 25-minute slideshow.”  This result does contribute to the stereotype, but in a different way. By looking at all the of articles, it shows that there is a difference in the way negative attitudes can be introduced.  Stanley & Isaacowitz, (2011) made the connection between these results and processing speed.  Through this, it shows that the stereotype is more about situations that have become a generalization rather than the actually occurrence.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE: Naturally, thinking about this, I think of my own grandparents. I have a really special relationship with them so I think it is hard for me to have an objective opinion about this. My grandparents are the happiest, most giving people I have ever known. Even with them, I still have caught myself believing and claiming this stereotype is truE. I have found if I am describing an encounter with an older adult that did not go well, I will go to the phrase “he/she was just a grumpy old man/woman.” I never noticed that I did that until I started doing this research. It is really interesting now because I have every reason to not believe the stereotype because of my relationship with my grandparents, but I still would use the stereotype as a default.


            Through these research articles and realizing my own experience, it has been a really interesting process to ‘undo’ this stereotype in my head. Looking at the research it shows that for the most part, that stereotype has no credibility. I do not know how to change the course of a

GRUMPY ADULTS                                                                                                                       4

stereotype. But I do know that this paper spurred me onto figuring out the other stereotypes in my life that I have been buying into without real reasoning. Doing this paper gave me the opportunity to base my stereotypes off facts, which then disproved the stereotype. Older adults are not ‘grumpier’ than anyone else. In fact, it seems to be the opposite.

                                                         References                                                   5

Charles, S. T., Mogle, J., Urban, E. J., & Almeida, D. M. (2016). Daily events are important for age differences in mean and duration for negative affect but not positive affect. Psychology and Aging, 31(7), 661-671. doi:10.1037/pag0000118

Larcom, M. J., & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2009). Rapid Emotion Regulation After Mood Induction: Age and Individual Differences. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 64B(6), 733-741. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbp077

Scott, S. B., Ram, N., Smyth, J. M., Almeida, D. M., & Sliwinski, M. J. (2017). Age differences in negative emotional responses to daily stressors depend on time since event. Developmental Psychology, 53(1), 177-190. doi:10.1037/dev0000257

Stanley, J. T., & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2011). Age-related differences in profiles of mood-change trajectories. Developmental Psychology, 47(2), 318-330. doi:10.1037/a0021023


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