Older adults are often described as being more emotionally competent than younger adults, and higher levels of affect complexity are seen as an indicator of this competence. We argue, however, that once age differences in affect variability are taken into account, older adults' everyday affective experiences will be characterized by lower affect complexity when compared with younger adults'. In addition, reduced affect complexity seems more likely from a theoretical point of view. We tested this hypothesis with a study in which younger and older adults reported their momentary affect on 100 days. Affect complexity was examined using clusterwise simultaneous component analysis based on covariance matrices to take into account differences in affect variability. We found that in the majority of older adults (55%), structures of affect were comparatively simpler than those of younger adults because they were reduced to a positive affect component. Most remaining older adults (35%) were characterized by differentiated rather than undifferentiated affective responding, as were a considerable number of younger adults (43%). When affect variability was made comparable across age groups, affect complexity also became comparable across age groups. It is interesting that individuals with the least complex structures had the highest levels of well-being. We conclude that affective experiences are not only less variable in the majority of older adults, but also less complex. Implications for understanding emotions across the life span are discussed.
- emotional complexity
- positive and negative affect
- emotional aging
- emotion differentiation
- clusterwise simultaneous component analysis