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Psychol Aging. 2012 Jun;27(2):305-17. doi: 10.1037/a0024959. Epub 2011 Aug 15.

Anger and sadness in response to an emotionally neutral film: evidence for age-specific associations with well-being.

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Institute of Personality and Social Research, University of California, Berkeley 94720-5050, USA.


When the association between emotion and well-being is being considered, positive emotions usually come to mind. However, negative emotions serve important adaptive functions and particular negative emotions may be especially adaptive at different stages of adult development. We examined the associations between self-reported negative emotions in response to an emotionally neutral, thematically ambiguous film and subjective well-being among 76 young (age 20-29), 73 middle-aged (age 40-49), and 73 older (age 60-69) adults. Results indicated that higher self-reported anger in response to the film was associated with higher well-being for middle-aged adults, but not for young and older adults. Higher self-reported sadness in response to the film was associated with higher well-being for older adults, but not for young and middle-aged adults. These findings were stronger for cognitive well-being (i.e., satisfaction with life) than for affective well-being (i.e., ratio of dispositional positive to negative affect) and were specific to these emotions (not found for self-reported disgust or fear) and to the emotionally neutral film (not found for sad or disgusting films). Results are discussed in terms of the functions that anger and sadness are thought to serve and the control opportunities afforded in midlife and late life that render these functions differentially adaptive.

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