Promoting Emotion Regulation to Enhance Cognitive Functioning in Older Adults

Project: Research project

Project Details


We seek to conduct a feasibility study to provide evidence that emotion regulation has positive short-term effects on cognitive functioning for older adults (age 65-80). If, as we hypothesize, positive short-term effects are found, we plan to move forward with a program of work that holds great promise for enhancing cognitive functioning in older adults in the long run.

Cognitive functioning declines in late life. Many older adults are at risk for cognitive decline as they age (e.g., Salthouse, 2004). Therefore, there is a pressing need to develop effective interventions to promote cognitive functioning in late life. Existing interventions have (1) have not always shown robust effects (cf. Depp, Vahia, & Jeste, 2010; Park & Bischof, 2013) or (2) may require substantial time and resources (cf. Park & Bischof, 2013). What we do not yet have are low-cost, easily delivered, effective interventions that enhance cognitive functioning in late life.
Emotion regulation trainings may enhance cognitive functioning in late life. One area that holds great promise for developing such an intervention is emotion regulation. Emotion regulation refers to the capacity to adjust aspects of the emotion response in accordance with personal, interpersonal, and social goals and standards (Gross, 2013). Importantly, emotion regulation has well-established links to cognitive functioning (Jamieson, Nock, & Mendes, 2012; Levenson, Sturm, & Haase, 2014; Opitz, Lee, Gross, & Urry, 2014; Scheibe & Blanchard-Fields, 2009). Research shows (1) that emotion regulation and cognitive functioning recruit similar brain areas (Levenson et al., 2014) and (2) that by changing their emotional responses, individuals can change their cardiovascular arousal, which in turn can benefit cognitive functioning (e.g., Jamieson et al., 2012; Mauss, Cook, Cheng, & Gross, 2007; Wirth, Haase, Villeneuve, Vogel, & Jagust, 2014). Effective low-cost emotion regulation trainings exist (e.g., Cohn & Fredrickson, 2010; Saslow, Cohn, & Moskowitz, 2014). However, to date, noone has utilized these trainings to enhance cognitive functioning in late life.
This feasibility study is a crucial step towards developing an emotion regulation training. In the long run, we plan to develop, implement, and evaluate an emotion regulation training to enhance cognitive functioning among older adults. However, before we can move forward with this program of work, we need to conduct a feasibility study because we need to explore the best ways to recruit qualified participant samples and develop sensitive and effective assessment procedures. Moreover, we need to examine which specific emotion regulation processes (e.g., social support activation; reappraisal; or suppression) result in the largest cognitive gains in the short term. This will provide direction about which emotion regulation processes are the most promising candidates to be targeted in our training study. Finally, we anticipate that the proposed feasibility study in and of itself will be of interest to researchers from multiple disciplines (i.e., gerontology, affective science, cognitive science).
For our emotion regulation training to promote longer-term gains in cognitive functioning, we are planning to recruit 60 healthy older adults (age 65 to 80) who will be randomized into two experimental conditions: (1) emotion regulation training group, and (2) wait-list control group. Participants in the intervention group will complete short (20-minute) emotion regulation exercises each week over 3 months (4 hours total). These exercise
Effective start/end date9/1/1711/30/18


  • Retirement Research Foundation (2017-030)


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