Emotion concepts are representations that enable people to make sense of their own and others’ emotions. The present study, theoretically driven by the conceptual act theory, explores the overall spectrum of emotion concepts in older adults and compares them with the emotion concepts of younger adults. Data from 178 older adults (⩾55 years) and 176 younger adults (20–30 years) were collected using the Semantic Emotion Space Assessment task. The arousal and valence of 16 discrete emotions – anger, fear, sadness, happiness, disgust, hope, love, hate, contempt, guilt, compassion, shame, gratefulness, envy, disappointment, and jealousy – were rated by the participants on a graphic scale bar. The results show that (a) older and younger adults did not differ in the mean valence ratings of emotion concepts, which indicates that older adults do not differ from younger adults in the way they conceptualise how pleasant or unpleasant emotions are. Furthermore, (b) older men rated emotion concepts as more arousing than younger men, (c) older adults rated sadness, disgust, contempt, guilt, and compassion as more arousing and (d) jealousy as less arousing than younger adults. The results of the present study indicate that age-related differentiation of conceptual knowledge seems to proceed more in the way that individuals understand how arousing their subjective representations of emotions are rather than how pleasant they are.