Older people `have more empathy`

London: Grandparents have traditionally been seen as the wiser and more caring members of the family. There`s seems to be a scientific reason for it - `emotional intelligence` peaks after the age of 60.

Two studies have found that older generations not only have more sensitivity and empathy than young adults, but they are also better at seeing positive side of stressful situations, the `Daily Mail` reported.

In fact, humans develop an enhanced "caring" side near the end of their lives, say researchers.

"Increasingly it appears that the meaning of late life centres on social relationships and caring for and being cared for by others.

"Evolution seems to have tuned our nervous systems in ways that are optimal for these kinds of interpersonal and compassionate activities as we age," said Professor Robert Levenson, from the University of California at Berkeley, who led the first study.

In this study, the researchers 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 showed it was easier for older people to see negative scenes in a positive light. 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`d to. In the second study, reported in the `Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience` journal, 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. The older participants showed more sadness in response to the films than their younger counterparts.

"In late life, individuals often adopt different perspectives and goals that focus more on close interpersonal relationships. By doing so, they become increasingly sensitised to sadness because the shared experience of sadness leads to greater intimacy in interpersonal relationships," said Dr Benjamin Seider, who led the second study.

Prof Levinson pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, heightened sensitivity to sadness does not indicate an increased risk of depression. In fact, it is a healthy sign.

"Sadness can be a particularly meaningful and helpful emotion in late life, as we are inevitably confronted with and need to deal with the losses we experience in our own life and with the need to give comfort to others," he said.


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