Reactive, Agentic, Apathetic, or Challenged? Aging, Emotion, and Coping During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nathaniel A. Young, Christian E. Waugh, Alyssa R. Minton, Susan T. Charles, Claudia M. Haase, Joseph A. Mikels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Background and Objectives: Advanced age is generally associated with improved emotional well-being, but the coronavirus 2019 pandemic unleashed a global stressor that gravely threatened the physical well-being and ostensibly challenged the emotional well-being of older adults disproportionately. The current study investigated differences in emotional experiences and coping strategies between younger and older adults during the pandemic, and whether these differences were accounted for by age differences in appraisal of the pandemic. Research Design and Methods: We asked younger (n = 181) and older (n = 176) adult participants to report their stress, appraisals of the pandemic, emotions, and the ways in which they were coping with the pandemic. Results: Results indicated that older adults experienced less stress and less negative affect and used greater problem-focused coping and less avoidant coping in response to the pandemic than younger adults. Furthermore, age differences in affect and coping were partially accounted for by age differences in appraisals of the pandemic. Discussion and Implications: Despite their objectively higher risk of illness and death due to the pandemic, older adults experienced less negative affect and used more agentic coping strategies than younger adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-227
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • Affect
  • Aging
  • Appraisal
  • Chronic stress
  • Emotion regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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