Ian Boggero: 2014 American Psychological Association Dissertation Research Award

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Positive affect is associated with longevity and health in older adults, but normative age-related increases in pain can threaten such wellbeing (Diener & Chan, 2011; Fernandez & Turk, 1995; Pressman & Cohen, 2005; Zautra et al., 1995). The threat is particularly relevant for older adults, as over 70% of older adults report experiencing physical pain within the previous month (Catala et al., 2002; Thomas, Peat, Harris, Wilkie, & Croft, 2004). Yet, older adults appear remarkably adept at maintaining positive affect in the face of pain. For instance, older and younger chronic pain patients do not differ in their level of positive psychological wellbeing, despite older adults experiencing pain longer and more intensely (Boggero, Geiger, Segerstrom, & Carlson, in press; Edwards & Fillingim, 2001; Sorkin et al., 1990). Relative to younger pain patients, older pain patients report better quality of life, marital and social satisfaction, and mood (Cook & Chastain, 2001; Rustøen et al., 2004). Taken together, the extant literature suggests that older adults maintain positive affect in the face of pain at least as well as their younger counterparts. Still, little is known about how older adults maintain positive affect in the face of pain, or what makes some older adults better able to cope with pain than others. Socioemotional selectivity theory posits that as people age, they become motivated to achieve the present-oriented goal of maintaining or heightening positive affect (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999). A wide body of literature suggests that older adults successfully accomplish positive affectivity by exhibiting a positivity bias in attention and memory that enhances positive emotions (e.g., Mather & Carstensen, 2005). Relative to younger adults, older adults strategically attend to positive environmental stimuli to regulate emotions and prioritize close over novel social contacts, leading to small but meaningful social networks (Charles, Mather, & Carstensen, 2003; Fung, Carstensen, Lang, 2001; Isaacowitz, Toner, Goren, & Wilson, 2008). The fact that older adults maintain positive affect following pain equally well as or better than younger adults suggests that they are using positivity-enhancing mechanisms to counteract the negative emotional experience of pain. Although positive affect is known to offset the relationship between pain and negative affect (Strand et al., 2006; Zautra, Smith, Affleck, & Tennen, 2001), no research to date has examined whether older adults use positivity mechanisms differently than younger adults to maintain positive affect after experiencing pain.
Effective start/end date11/5/1410/15/15


  • American Psychological Association: $1,000.00


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