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Surprising Science

How the Elderly Learn to Worry Less

Researchers have found that emotionally healthy elderly individuals employ unique coping strategies to deal with life’s travails, focusing on the present rather than on feelings of regret. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A recent psychological experiment reveals that the elderly have unique emotional coping strategies which help them lead happier, longer lives by distancing themselves from feelings of regret and focusing on the present moment instead. In the experiment, conducted by researchers at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, emotionally healthy people of varying ages (as well as a group of depressed elderly individuals) played a game of chance in which “players had to choose whether to keep on going in the game for the opportunity to win more points, but if they lost in a subsequent round, they would lose all their points.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Young people and depressed elderly participants responded similarly to losing points by focusing on feelings of regret (prompting them to take larger risks in subsequent stages of the game). Healthy elderly people, however, were less affected by negative emotions. Psychologists say our emotions are driven by changes in our life goals. “Younger people often need to explore or take risks to achieve longer-range goals, and they experience stress and frustration in the meantime. Older people, by contrast, perceive their time horizons as shorter and focus on more immediate goals that elicit positive emotions, like being with their grandchildren.”

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