Stereotype of "Cheerful Grandmother" Has Basis in Science

Julia Little  |  September 11, 2012

There is a common cultural image of a jolly grandfather or a warm, loving grandmother. As it turns out, these stereotypes have some basis in science - research has shown that older adults generally display more positive emotions and are able to regulate out of negative emotional states faster than younger adults. A new study shows the explanation behind this cheerful ability.

In a recent article in the Current Directions in Psychological Science, researcher Derek Isaacowitz of Northeastern University presented evidence that older adults are better at regulating their emotions than younger people because of "positive looking" - they direct their eyes away from negative stimuli or toward positive material. The evidence showed that seniors tend to prefer these positive looking patterns when they are feeling blue. When younger adults are in bad moods, this is when they tend to show the most negative "looking" - that is, directing their eyes toward negative stimuli. It is this ability to regulate moods that allows many seniors to enjoy a cheerful demeanor, Isaacowitz found.

The study shows a causal relationship between mood "positive looking," or looking for the good in life. Seniors seem to have honed an ability to look on the bright side, which, by and large, cancels out the aches, pains and "senior moments" that many would imagine could bring down the spirits of many older adults.

However, depression is still somewhat prevalent among seniors. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, depression affects about a fifth of all Americans over age 65. The condition can be caused or triggered by loneliness or physical illness, as well as struggles with memory loss or other cognitive issues, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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