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01.08.2015 | Beiträge zum Themenschwerpunkt | Ausgabe 6/2015

Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie 6/2015

Psychological vulnerability to daily stressors in old age

Results of short-term longitudinal studies

Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie > Ausgabe 6/2015
Prof .Dr. phil. Oliver Karl Schilling, PhD Manfred Diehl


A growing numbers of intensive longitudinal studies examine the short-term variability of behavior in response to daily stressors. Collectively, these studies address the vulnerability for stress-related emotional burden as assessed in terms of the intraindividual association between daily stressors and negative affect (NA). This article provides a brief overview of the relevant research on so-called affective reactivity to daily stressors and focuses on findings on development of age-related stressor reactivity across the adult lifespan. Two theoretical propositions have been put forward. Firstly, it has been postulated that aging should be associated with increased affective reactivity, i.e. it has been assumed that the vulnerability in terms of physiological stress reactivity increases across the adult life span and, thus, a higher stress-induced emotional reactivity should result with increasing age. Secondly, it has been argued that due to the continued development of emotional self-regulation skills, there should be an age-related decrease in stress reactivity and, hence, an increased resilience. Findings on age differences in NA reactivity to daily stressors, however, have been inconsistent. A possible explanation for the inconsistent findings may lie in the fact that the postulated dynamics of increased vulnerability or resilience imply different time-related reactions to stressors. In particular, the activation and effectiveness of emotional self-regulation strategies increase with increasing time intervals from the stressors. This leads to the conclusion that with increasing age the resilience for longer periods of stress and accumulated stress should increase. Results from our own research support this hypothesis, where older adults reacted to multiple stressors in a more adaptive way than younger adults.

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