Greater empathic accuracy and emotional reactivity in old age: The sample case of death and dying.

With increasing age, proximity to one’s own death increases and topics related to death and dying may become particularly relevant and familiar. Consequently, older, as compared to young, adults should experience stronger negative emotions in response to these topics and show higher empathy for other individuals dealing with them. To address these predictions, in a first study, we presented two types of death-related stimuli to 41 young and 41 older adults (i.e., participants were asked to write about how they think and feel about their own death and they were presented with three newly developed films of adults talking about various death-related aspects). Although age differences in emotional reactions to the writing task were nonsignificant, in comparison to young adults, older adults reacted to the film stimuli with stronger negative emotions, especially with greater anxiety and sadness. At the same time, older adults reported greater sympathy for the film protagonists and were better able to recognize their emotions accurately. In a second study, we provided further evidence for the idea that the age relevance and familiarity of stimuli determine older adults’ emotional reactions by varying the age-relevance of two film stimuli. As predicted, and consistent with Study 1, older adults reacted with greater anxiety and sadness to the death-related film, but not to a film about divorce, that was not particularly relevant to older adults. Taken together, our studies provide evidence for the idea that particularly older adults’ emotional reactions are influenced by the context of an emotional situation. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)