Age differences in interpreting ambiguous situations: the effects of content themes and depressed mood

Juang, Christine and Knight, Bob G. (2016) Age differences in interpreting ambiguous situations: the effects of content themes and depressed mood. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 71 (6). pp. 1024-1033. ISSN 1079-5014


Objectives: This study aimed to investigate the boundary conditions of the positivity effect on appraisals of ambiguous situations across content themes and emotional states. We differentiated the processes of interpretation generation and selection to see whether older adults recognize negative aspects of ambiguous situations but tend to select positive interpretations.

Method: Seventy-six younger and 67 older adults went through sad and neutral mood inductions and completed ambiguous situation tasks. Participants were asked to generate interpretations and select one as the most likely explanation for each scenario.

Results: Results demonstrated that compared with younger adults, older adults selected less negative interpretations across content themes but generated fewer negative interpretations in interpersonal but not in health situations. Depressed mood led to more negative interpretations at both generation and selection for younger adults but not older adults.

Conclusions: Our results showed that thematic factors had an effect on the positivity effect on interpretation generation, but regardless of content themes, older adults selected a less negative interpretation as the most likely, despite knowing alternative negative explanations. The positivity effect remained for older adults in high trait and state depressed mood. Together these findings are consistent with the pattern of older adults’ tendency to maximize emotional well-being through less negative interpretations of ambiguous situations.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Permanent restricted access to Published version in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Current - Faculty of Health, Engineering and Sciences - School of Psychology and Counselling
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2016 06:18
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2017 04:31
Uncontrolled Keywords: age differences; ambiguous situations; appraisal; depressed mood; interpretation bias; thematic factors
Fields of Research : 11 Medical and Health Sciences > 1103 Clinical Sciences > 110319 Psychiatry (incl. Psychotherapy)
17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 1701 Psychology > 170102 Developmental Psychology and Ageing
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 92 Health > 9205 Specific Population Health (excl. Indigenous Health) > 920502 Health Related to Ageing
Identification Number or DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbv037

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