Emotional intelligence peaks when people enter their 60s
Published 03/01/2011 | 05:00
It may be no accident that grandma is such a sweet old lady. Scientists have discovered that emotional intelligence peaks when people enter their 60s.
As a result, older generations are more sensitive and empathic than younger members of society. They are also better at seeing the positive side of stressful situations.
US scientists believe it makes sense that humans developed an enhanced "caring" side near the end of their lives.
"Increasingly, it appears that the meaning of late life centres on social relationships and caring for and being cared for by others," said psychologist Professor Robert Levenson, from the University of California at Berkeley.
"Evolution seems to have tuned our nervous systems in ways that are optimal for these kinds of interpersonal and compassionate activities as we age," he said.
In one study, the scientists looked at how 144 healthy adults in their 20s, 40s and 60s reacted to neutral, sad and "disgusting" film clips.
Participants were asked to adopt a detached and objective attitude, show no emotion, or focus on the positive aspects of what they were seeing.
The findings, published in the journal 'Psychology and Aging', showed it was easier for older people to see negative scenes in a positive light.
This is a recognised coping strategy that draws on life experience and lessons learnt from the past.
By contrast, young and middle-aged participants were better at "tuning out" and diverting attention away from the unpleasant films.
Such "detached appraisal" draws heavily on brain functions responsible for memory, planning and impulse control that diminish with age.
All three age groups were equally good at clamping down on their emotional responses when they had to.
In another study, reported in the journal 'Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience', Berkeley scientists used similar methods to test sensitivity to sadness.
A total of 222 healthy adults in their 20s, 40s and 60s were shown emotionally-charged film clips while electrodes attached to the skin recorded their physiological responses.
Older participants showed more sadness in response to the films than their younger counterparts.