Isaacowitz, D.M. (2005). An attentional perspective on successful socioemotional aging: Theory and preliminary evidence. Research in Human Development, 3, 115-132.

What are the information-processing mechanisms that underlie successful affect regulation across the life span? Recent evidence suggests a rather positive view of affect regulation in later life, and a socioemotional selectivity theory has been proposed as a motivational account that may help explain these findings.  In particular, the theory argues that emotions and their regulations become more salient as people age.  After reviewing recent evidence primarily concerning emotional memory in late life, theoretical rationale is presented for investigating the role of attention to emotional stimuli as a mechanism for understanding successful affect regulation across the adult life span.  Then, a program of research using eye tracking to study these attentional processes is described, and initial results are presented suggesting that there may be both age and individual difference effects on attention to emotional stimuli in adulthood.

Isaacowitz, D.M. (2005). Correlates of well-being in adulthood and old age: A tale of two optimisms. Journal of Research in Personality, 39, 224-244.

Isaacowitz, D.M. (2005). The gaze of the optimist. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 3, 407-415.

Two studies used eye tracking to investigate the attentional preferences of optimists and pessimists to negative emotional stimuli. In both studies, optimistic and pessimistic college students viewed 3 types of visual stimuli while having their eye movements tracked: skin cancer (melanoma) images, matched schematic line drawings, and neutral faces. In the first study, participants were asked to view the images naturally, whereas in the second study some participants received a relevance manipulation. Percent fixation time to the different images was measured. Optimists showed selective inattention to the skin cancer images, even after controlling for attention to matched schematic line drawings. This relationship remained significant in both studies, after controlling for the effects of neuroticism, affect, anxiety, relevance, and perceptual variables. These data suggest that optimists may indeed wear “rose-colored glasses” in their processing of information from the world.

Xing, C., Luo, J., & Isaacowitz, D.M. (2005). Human strengths, culture and aging. Journal of Psychology in Chinese Societies, 6, 27-59.

Age and culture may both influence the nature and expression of human strengths, broadly defined as psychological processes predictive of adaptive life outcomes. This paper reviews studies on different aspects of human strengths across the life-span and within different cultures.  Empirical findings reveal age differences in some human strengths, and the few relevant studies of aging in China suggest that different strengths may be important there than in Western cultures.  Cultural differences in the relation between human strengths and successful aging are then discussed based on the assertion that Western and Eastern cultures have a divergent emphasis on independence and interdependence.  Future study may try to unravel the role of human strengths and culture in the aging process to contribute to a more thorough understanding of successful aging.


Carstensen, L. L, Charles, S. T., Isaacowitz, D. M., & Kennedy, Q. (2003). Life-span personality development and emotion. In R.J. Davidson, H.H. Goldsmith, & K. Scherer (Eds.), The Handbook of Affective Sciences (pp. 726-744). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Isaacowitz, D.M., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2003). Cognitive styles and psychological well-being in adulthood and old age. In M. Bornstein, L. Davidson, C.L.M. Keyes, K. Moore, & The Center for Child Well-Being (Eds.), Well-Being: Positive development across the lifespan (pp. 449-475). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

(from the chapter) Reviews literature and discusses the relationship between cognitive style and variance in successful aging and well-being in adulthood and old age. An emotion-centered definition of successful aging is used to match the dependent variables that tend to be used in studies of cognitive styles. This comprises a positive affective profile in which depressive symptoms and negative affect are minimal and positive affect and life satisfaction are moderate or high. Issues discussed include explanatory style for causes of events over the adult life span, dispositional optimism, personal optimism, selectivity about goals, social selectivity, hardiness and resilience in the fact of stress, perceptions of control, and wisdom. Despite research shortcomings, it is concluded that the following cognitive style elements may contribute to adult and old-age well-being: realistic explanatory style, absence of dispositional pessimism, selectivity in goal pursuit and social relations, a fair amount of hardiness, and expertise in the pragmatics of life (wisdom).

Isaacowitz, D.M., & Smith, J. (2003). Positive and negative affect in very old age. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 58B, P143-P152.

The current study examined two issues involving the relationship between age and affect in very old age using data from men and women (aged 70 to 100+ years, M=85 years) in the Berlin Aging Study (BASE). The first issue was whether unique effects of age on positive and negative affect remained after we controlled for other variables that would be expected to relate to affect in late life. We found no unique effects of age after we controlled for demographic, personality, and health and cognitive functioning variables. Personality and general intelligence emerged as the strongest predictors of positive and negative affect. Second, we evaluated patterns within meaningful subgroups: young old versus oldest old and men versus women. Subgroup differences in predictor patterns were minimal. Although we accounted for much of the age-related variance in positive and negative affect, a significant amount of variance in the affect of older adults remained unexplained.

Isaacowitz, D.M., Smith, T.B., & Carstensen, L.L. (2003). Socioemotional selectivity and mental health among trauma survivors in old age. Ageing International, 28, 181-199.

Empirical tests of socioemotional selectivity theory support the contention that the developmental trend in adulthood to focus increasingly on fewer, but emotionally significant, social partners is associated positively with psychological well-being. Tenets of the theory, however, also suggest conditions in which selectivity could instead lead to an increase in negative emotional experiences. In particular, if the socioemotional world of the individual includes emotional distress, selective focus on emotions and close relationships may detract from rather than enhance well-being. In the current study, we examined selectivity and associated well-being in Holocaust survivors, Japanese-American internment camp survivors, and comparably-aged people who lived through World War II but did not experience major trauma. We predicted that selectivity would relate to positive mental health in all groups except the Holocaust survivors who, on average, experience elevated levels of negative affect and social networks that include other survivors also experiencing distress. Results generally supported these hypotheses, and are discussed in light of individual and group differences in socioemotional ageing, as well as the implications for the generality of social developmental theories of adaptive functioning.

Isaacowitz, D.M., Vaillant, G.E., Seligman, M.E.P. (2003). Strengths and satisfaction across the adult lifespan. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 57, 183-203.

Positive psychology has recently developed a classification of human strengths (Peterson & Seligman, in press). We aimed to evaluate these strengths by investigating the strengths and life satisfaction in three adult samples recruited from the community (young adult, middle-aged, and older adult), as well as in the surviving men of the Grant study of Harvard graduates. In general, older adults had higher levels of interpersonal and self-regulatory strengths, whereas younger adults reported higher levels of strengths related to exploring the world. Grant study men tended to report lower strength levels than older adults from the community. Among the young adults, only hope significantly predicted life satisfaction, whereas among the middle-aged individuals, the capacity for loving relationships was the only predictor. Among community-dwelling older adults, hope, citizenship, and loving relationships all positively and uniquely predicted life satisfaction, compared with loving relationships and appreciation of beauty in the Grant sample.


Isaacowitz, D.M., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2002).  Cognitive style predictors of affect change in older adults.  International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 54, 233-253.

Cognitive styles are the lenses through which individuals habitually process information from their environment. This study evaluated whether different cognitive style individual difference variables, such as explanatory style and dispositional optimism, could predict changes in affective state over time in 93 community-dwelling older adults (60-99 yrs old). Based on previous research, it was hypothesized that an optimistic explanatory style would be adaptive except when combined with life stressors, but that dispositional optimism would predict positive affective states regardless of life events. It was found that older adults with a more optimistic explanatory style for health/cognitive events actually appeared to develop more depressive symptoms over 6 mo follow-up. However, dispositional optimism and orientation toward the future predicted a better affective profile over time.

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