experience similar (Lawton et al., 1993) or even higher levels of positive emotions than young people well into late life (Mroczek and Kolarz, 1998).
Similar themes resonate in mental health research findings. Rather than a risk factor, age appears to be a protective factor in the etiology of mental health disorders (Gatz et al., 1996; Robins and Regier, 1991). With the exception of the dementias, research shows that older adults suffer relatively low rates of all mental health problems, including depression. Older people (men and women ages 63 to 92) also report fewer fears and anxieties than college undergraduates (Powers, Wisocki, and Whitbourne, 1992). Results of the National Health Interview Survey show that serious psychological distress is least likely to be reported by men and women over the age of 65 (National Center for Health Statistics, 2005). In no way should such findings downplay the seriousness of psychopathology when it occurs; however, such findings do help to place such cases in a context that suggests that aging per se does not increase risk of psychopathology.
Social cognition refers to processing information about social matters and the influence of social context on cognitive processing. Research on cognitive aging documents deterioration in a broad array of basic cognitive processes, including speed of processing, working memory, executive functions, attention, and inhibition. These results are from cross-sectional studies that compared high school or college students and sometimes middle-aged adults to older men and women up to age 92 (Oberauer and Kliegl, 2004; Park et al., 2002; Salthouse, Atkinson, and Berish, 2003; Smith, Park, Earles, Shaw, and Whiting, 1998). Longitudinal studies of men and women ages 70 to 103 at baseline show also that age gradients are more negative over time (Singer, Verhaeghen, Ghisletta, Lindenberger, and Baltes, 2003). Yet the research also suggests that reasoning about emotionally charged matters is well maintained. Older people (largely in their 60s and 70s) solve interpersonal problems more flexibly than younger people (college undergraduates), especially those that are emotionally charged (Blanchard-Fields, 1998; Blanchard-Fields et al., 1995), and they display greater evidence for motivated reasoning about social targets when character traits are emotionally laden (Hess, Waters, and Bolstad, 2000). Even on cognitive tasks known to show age-related decline, like source memory, older people (60-75) perform better when the source concerns emotionally significant characteristics of people (Rahhal, May, and Hasher, 2002). Such findings are in keeping with the idea that older people are motivated to maintain social and emotional harmony in day-to-day life and so direct cognitive resources to those goals.
Support for this finding is also evident in studies of attention (Mather