Greater sadness reactivity in late life

Benjamin H. Seider, Michelle Shiota, Patrick Whalen, Robert W. Levenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Although previous research suggests that overall emotional reactivity does not change with normal aging, it is possible that different emotions follow different developmental courses. We examined emotional reactivity to films selected to elicit sadness, disgust, and a neutral state in young, middle-aged and older adults (total N = 222). Physiology and expressive behavior were measured continuously and reports of subjective emotional experience were obtained following each film. Results indicated that older adults reported greater sadness in response to all films and greater physiological responses to the sadness film than did the younger age groups. There were no age differences found in self-reported disgust or in behavioral expressions of sadness or disgust in response to any film. The age differences that were found were maintained even after controlling for pre-film self-reported sadness and for personal experiences of loss. These findings support the notion that sadness reactivity is heightened with age.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbernsq069
Pages (from-to)186-194
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Aging
  • Emotion
  • Physiology
  • Sadness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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