Responding to the emotions of others: Age differences in facial expressions and age-specific associations with relational connectedness

Sandy J. Lwi, Claudia M. Haase, Michelle N. Shiota, Scott L. Newton, Robert W. Levenson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Responding prosocially to the emotion of others may become increasingly important in late life, especially as partners and friends encounter a growing number of losses, challenges, and declines. Facial expressions are important avenues for communicating empathy and concern, and for signaling that help is forthcoming when needed. In a study of young, middle-aged, and older adults, we measured emotional responses (facial expressions, subjective experience, and physiological activation) to a sad, distressing film clip and a happy, uplifting film clip. Results revealed that, relative to younger adults, older adults showed more sadness and confusion/concern facial expressions during the distressing film clip. Moreover, for older adults only, more sadness and fewer disgust facial expressions during the distressing film clip were associated with higher levels of relational connectedness. These findings remained stable when accounting for subjective emotional experience, physiological activation, and trait empathy in response to the film clip. When examining the uplifting film clip, older adults showed more happiness facial expressions relative to younger adults at trend levels. More facial expressions of happiness were associated with higher levels of relational connectedness, but unlike the effect of sadness expressions, this was not moderated by age. These findings underscore an important adaptive social function of facial expressions-particularly in response to the distress of others-in late life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1437-1449
Number of pages13
JournalEmotion
Volume19
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2019

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Facial expressions
  • Loneliness
  • Relational connectedness
  • Sadness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Responding to the emotions of others: Age differences in facial expressions and age-specific associations with relational connectedness'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this