Shevaun Neupert, Ph.D., and Jennifer Bellingtier

Does a positive attitude make older adults more resilient?

New research published Wednesday in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences says yes, and that a good attitude improves stress management and, therefore, quality of life and maybe even health.

The study “tells us that the way we think about aging has very real consequences for how we respond to difficult situations when we’re older,” said Shevaun Neupert, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and senior author on the paper. “That affects our quality of life and also may have health ramifications. For example, more adverse emotional responses to stress have been associated with increased cardiovascular health risks.”

Researchers asked 43 adults aged 60 to 96 years to complete a questionnaire every day for eight consecutive days. It asked participants about any stress they had experienced that day, as well as the extent to which they experienced negative emotions, such as fear, irritability or distress.

At the beginning of the study, participants were asked about their attitudes about aging. For example, the older adults were asked whether they believed they were as useful now as they had been when they were younger and whether they were as happy now as when they were younger.

The researchers also accounted for the personality of study participants. For instance, were they optimistic and upbeat about everything.

“We found that people in the study who had more positive attitudes toward aging were more resilient in response to stress, meaning that there wasn’t a significant increase in negative emotions,” said Jennifer Bellingtier, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author the paper. “Meanwhile, study participants with more negative attitudes toward aging showed a sharp increase in negative emotional affect on stressful days.”