Supplementary Material for: Age Differences in Emotion Regulation and Facial Muscle Reactivity to Emotional Films

Background: Age-related declines in many cognitive abilities are common in healthy aging. However, the ability to effectively regulate emotions is preserved, and possibly even enhanced, in late adulthood. This capacity has been examined most commonly in relation to low-intensity emotional stimuli that typically involve static pictures. Evidence is suggesting that older adults may become overwhelmed when exposed to emotional cues of heightened intensity. Objective: In the current study, we assessed whether older adults retain the ability to regulate emotions successfully when exposed to more emotionally evocative (e.g., dynamic) stimuli. Methods: Young and older adults were instructed to regulate, using expressive suppression, their outward behavioral expression of emotions while viewing dynamic stimuli involving amusing and sad films. Facial reactivity, as indexed using electromyography, self-rated emotional experience, and memory for the stimuli were assessed. Results: The results showed that, relative to young adults, older adults were unable to suppress zygomaticus (cheek) activity to amusing films or corrugator (brow) reactivity to sad films, which is likely due to their relatively reduced facial muscle reactivity. Expressive suppression did not affect young or older adults’ subjective feelings or memory for the stimuli. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that there are age differences in facial muscle reactivity to amusing and sad cues of heightened intensity. These findings suggest that older adults’ ability to effectively regulate emotions may be limited, at least with expressive suppression, in the context of high-intensity emotional cues. Further research is needed to investigate possible exceptions the preservation of emotion regulation in older adults.