Although previous studies have reached a consensus that older adults have weaker responses to social exclusion than younger adults, the underlying mechanism is still under debate. The present study examined the age-related differences in responses toward social exclusion with self-report scales and electrodermal activity measurements, aiming at a further understanding of the possible mechanism behind these behaviors.
Sixty-nine younger (aged 16-28, Mage= 20.13) and seventy-one older adults (aged 55-82, Mage = 66.72) completed a Cyberball task to simulate social exclusion. They were then asked to regulate the exclusion experiences with different strategies (affect-focused attention/detached reappraisal/distraction strategies) in a subsequent regulation session. Their electrodermal activities were measured throughout the entire process. Self-report scales were measured after the Cyberball session and at the end of the regulation session.
Similar to previous studies, older adults exhibited a lower level of responsiveness toward social exclusion in both self-report scales and electrodermal activities. Moreover, during the Cyberball session, older adults exhibited a tendency of increased electrodermal activity, followed by a decrease in activity. Younger adults demonstrated a pattern of continuous increase. In the regulation session, younger adults from the detached reappraisal regulation strategy condition mimicked the overall response pattern of older adults, such that they exhibited lower levels of responsiveness toward social exclusion.
The results from the present study indicate that active emotion regulation (i.e., detached reappraisal) in appraisal stage rather than declined cognition might account for the age-related differences in responses toward social exclusion between older and younger adults.