Emotional Intelligence Gets Better With Age
A recent study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley (in conjunction with Arizona State University,) concludes that emotional intelligence peaks as we enter our 60s.
The team of researchers, led by psychologist Dr. Robert Levenson, has been tracking how our emotional strategies and responses change as we age. Their findings “support the theory that emotional intelligence and cognitive skills can actually sharpen as we enter our 60s, giving older people an advantage in the workplace and in personal relationships.”
In the first part of the study, researchers observed 144 healthy adults in their 20s, 40s, and 60s as they reacted to neutral, sad, and disgusting film clips. The participants had to watch these clips utilizing techniques known as “detatched appraisal,” “positive reappraisal,” and “behavior suppression.” When asked to watch the clips with detached appraisal, the participants were told to adopt an objective, unemotional attitude. For positive reappraisal, they were told to focus on the positive aspects of what they were seeing. Finally, for behavioral suppression, they were instructed to not show any emotion. Researchers discovered that the older participants were the best at looking for the positive side of negative scenes (positive reappraisal,) a coping mechanism that draws heavily on life experiences and lessons learned. The study’s younger and middle aged participants were best at using detached appraisal in order to tune out the unpleasant emotions that came along with disturbing and sad movie clips.
According to Dr. Levenson, “it appears that the meaning of late life centers on social relationships and caring for and being cared for by others…evolution seems to have tuned our nervous systems in ways that are optimal for these kinds of interpersonal and compassionate activities as we age.” With the detached appraisal technique, the prefrontal brain’s “executive function” is exercised. This mechanism is responsible for memory, planning, and impulse control, which all diminish with age. Furthermore, the need to be able to detach from emotional situations seems to be more important in young adulthood and middle age, when establishing and continuing in a career is viewed to be essential to success. In the workforce, most professions require employees to leave their emotional side at home in order to be productive and do their job well.
Do you think you are better at detaching from emotional situations, or looking at the positive side of them? Do you think your emotional intelligence is similar to others in your generation?
In the second part of the study, conducted by UC Berkeley psychologist Benjamin Seider, 222 healthy adults in their 20s, 40s, and 60s were wired with physiological sensors as they watched the same film clips from the first half of the experiment. Researchers discovered that older participants showed more sadness in reaction to emotionally charged scenes when compared to their younger counterparts. This is likely because of the fact that “in late life, individuals often adopt different perspectives and goals that focus more on close interpersonal relationships…by doing so, they become increasingly sensitized to sadness because the shared experience of sadness leads to greater intimacy in interpersonal relationships,” according to Seider.
Why do you think younger people have lower sensitivity to sadness?
You may read more about the study here.