Age differences on the emotional processing scale

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Summary of age and emotion regulation

It is common knowledge that older age is associated with loss of cognitive and sensory sharpness and other physical ability (Carstensen, Gross, & Fung, 1998). However, according to Mather and Carstensen (2005), more recent studies do not support previous suggestions that cognitive decline from normal aging necessarily impairs emotional control. Instead, when compared with younger adults, older adults report that they focus more on self-control and report their emotional regulation skills as better (e.g. Lawton, Kleblan, Rajagopal, & Dean, 1992; Gross, Carstensen, Pasupathi, Tsai, GotestramSkorpen& Hsu, 1997).Therefore, contrary to views that loss of ability must result in decrease of emotional wellbeing, many cross-sectional or longitudinal studies (Stawski, Almeida, Sliwinski, & Smyth, 2008; Cacioppo et al., 2008; Charles, Reynolds, &Gatz, 2001) have found that older age appears to increase emotion-regulation, decrease of negative affect and general increase in wellbeing

Data on which EPS calculations are based on

The EPS Norms booklet (Roger et al, 2015.) publication illustrates patterns of mean score differences in various sample groups. The extensive normative statistics, which were collated in partnership with 27 of our 80 international collaborators, are based on a sample of 7113 participants.

The booklet presents in-depth analysis of gender within and between each sample group, frequencies of group participants according to demographicsand compares subgroups based on age categories, showing differences on EPS scores and highlighting significant differences using ANOVA and presents the Pearson correlations coefficient for the EPS subscores and total score with age, based on exact ages of each individual.

Based on the gathered data and for ease of interpretation, the norms were split into 6 groups as follows;

Group Subgroup Sample size (n=) Age range
Healthy (UK) 1022 18-81
Mental Health Total Combined group 530 15-68
Addiction 376 19-68
Eating disorders 76 15-68
Gen. psychological difficulties 78 20-67
Childhood experiences 139 11-34
Pain 163 18-73
International sample Polish 430 18-55
Indian 304 18-30
Portuguese 1156 18-79
Egyptian 216 19-26
Japanese 830 30-69
English speaking student (Canadian, Australia, America) 547 18-68
Other Pregnant women 974

The ‘Other’ group,combined groups that did not easily fit categorisations and consisted of a sample of 974 women, for whom age ranges were not specified.

EPS findings on age and emotion

Healthy sample

When looking at demographic characteristics for the healthy (UK) sample, some small but significant correlations between emotional processing and age can be observed across all subscores and the total EPS score. A negative correlation between age and EP scores is measured, which suggests that with increasing age, EP score decrease (i.e.: improve).

Additionally, there is an indication of an Interaction-effect between age and gender, especially concerning subscores of Suppression and Emotional experience. This is in accordance withresearch (Nolen-Hoeksema&Aldao, 2011) which indicates that with age, males become more expressive, whereas the opposite is true for females.

Group EPS Subscale Age – Mean (SD) F(df) p
25-45 46+
Healthy (UK) Sample Suppression 4.2 (2.1) 3.8 (2.0) 3.4 (2.2) F(2, 986)=8.38 <.001
Signs of unprocessed emotions 4.9 (2.0) 4.2 (2.2) 3.9 (2.1) F(2, 986)= 18.49 <.001
Controllability 3.7 (1.9) 3.3 (1.8) 3.2 (1.9) F(2, 986)= 6.89 0.001
Avoidance 3.6 (1.6) 3.3 (1.7) 3.2 (1.8) F(2, 986)= 3.96 0.02
Emotional Experience 3.1 (1.7) 2.7 (1.7) 2.6 (1.7) F(2, 986)= 8.03 <.001
Total 3.9 (1.4) 3.5 (1.5) 3.2 (1.5) F(2, 986)= 14.60 <.001

Some of the international research undertaken, concerned differences in Emotional Processing and ageing. Bucks, (2008) investigated the association between emotional processing and ageing in a community sample in both the UK and Australia (Bucks, 2008).

Mental Health

When exploring the Mental Health subgroups more closely, other significant differences are observed.

In the addiction group, significantly higher (i.e: worst) EPS scores were observed for younger participants, compared to older participants, with those aged 24 and below scoring the highest across all subscores and total EPS scores. Significantdifferences for EPS scores across age groups were measured for the subscales of Controllability of Emotion and Emotional Experience, as well as total EPS scores.

Interestingly, the reverse was true for the ‘General psychological difficulties’ subgroup in the Mental Health sample. Compared to the younger age category, those aged 46 and over scored pointedly higher on all subscales and total scales. These differences yielded significant result on total EPS scores, Suppression and Signs of Unprocessed Emotion subscores.

International samples/translations

Like the UK healthy sample, the International samples showed a general decrease of EPS scores with age. It could be argued that increased life experience and knowledge may provide better resilience with age. The two most sensitive factors showing differences between populations on age were Controllability of Emotion and Signs of Unprocessed Emotions.

However, the only exception was the Polish sample which showed an interesting pattern of decreasing EPS scores for middle aged participants between ages of 25-45, but then a considerable increasing EPS score on all subscales for those aged 46 and over.


Under the supervision of Marie-Claire Gay and AntioniaCsillik at Nanterre University, Paris, Larisa Olteanu is conducting a PhD entitled Implementation of emotion regulation in adolescents: A comparative study between adolescent English, French and Romanian, in which a version of the EPS has been developed for 13- to 18-year-olds. Apart from devising a new version, Larisa is comparing emotional processing and other emotional dimensions in the early, mid and late teenage years to understand more about the developing capacity of teenagers to cope with emotional events.

At this stage however, more research needs to be undertaken into low emotional processing scores and whether this may indicate different emotional problems, from high scorers.

This brief look at the analysis is taken from the fuller data presented in the published EPS norms booklet (Baker et al., 2015).


Baker, R., Thomas, P., Thomas, S., Santonastaso, M., & Corrigan, E. (2015). Emotional Processing Scale Norms Booklet – Version 1. Oxford, UK: Hogrefe.

Bucks, R. (2008). Emotional processing in ageing and dementia (Unpublished research). The University of Western Australia, Crawley.

Cacioppo, J.T., Hawkley, L.C., Kalil, A., Hughes, M.E., Waite, L., &Thisted, R.A. (2008). Happiness and the invisible threads of social connection: The Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. In M. Eid & R. Larsen (Eds.), The science of well-being (pp. 195–219). New York: Guilford.

Carstensen, L.L., Gross, J.J., & Fung, H. (1998). The social context of emotional experience. In K.W. Schaie& M.P. Lawton (Eds.), Annual review of gerontology and geriatrics (Vol. 17, pp. 325– 352). New York: Springer.

Charles, S.T., Reynolds, C.A., &Gatz, M. (2001). Age-related differences and change in positive and negative affect over 23 years. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 136–151.

Gross, J.J., Carstensen, L.L., Pasupathi, M., Tsai, J., Skorpen, C.G., & Hsu, A.Y.C. (1997). Emotion and aging: Experience, expression, and control. Psychology and Aging, 12, 590–599.

Lawton, Kleblan, Rajagopal, & Dean (1992);

Mather and Carstensen (2005),

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. &Aldao, A. (2011) ‘Gender and age differences in emotion regulation strategies and their relationship to depressive symptoms’, in Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) 704–708

Stawski, R.S., Almeida, D.M., Sliwinski, M.J., & Smyth, J.M. (2008). Reported exposure and emotional reactivity to daily stressors: The roles of adult age and global perceived stress. Psychology and Aging, 23, 52–61.