Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Psychology Degree



First Advisor

Mcclennan, Conor

Second Advisor

Eric Allard, PhD

Third Advisor

Katherine Judge, PhD


Emotional reactivity has been commonly studied through the discrete emotion approach model (DEA) that categorizes emotions as singular unique experiences (sadness, fear, disgust, anger, etc.). Reactivity to a discrete emotion is related to the contextual relevance of the emotional elicitor, and thus, may result in variable reactivity profiles across different age groups. While prior research has typically associated older age with sadness and younger age with anger, there may be contextual subtypes within these discrete categories that are more or less relevant to either age group. Characteristics of older age are associated with themes of loss (death, diminished physical ability, etc.); therefore, we predicted older adults would be equally or more reactive to loss-based sadness compared to younger adults. In contrast, we predicted younger adults would have greater reactivity to failure-based sadness, as younger adulthood is associated with themes of resource competition. As prior research has found older adults to be less reactive to interpersonal conflict compared to younger adults, we predicted younger adults would be more reactive to frustration-based anger. Lastly, we predicted older adults would be more reactive to violation-based anger, as older adults may be more embedded in their moral values compared to younger adults. In this study, 49 younger adults (Mage = 20.00, SD = 2.26) and 51 older adults (Mage = 66.00, SD = 4.94) were asked to relive and verbally describe an emotional memory associated with subtypes of anger and sadness. Emotional reactivity was recorded through self-reported ratings on iii distinct emotion categories. Results revealed a significant age difference in emotional reactivity to violation-based anger. No other significant age differences were found. The findings from this study suggest that aging and emotional reactivity may be determined by contextual relevance within discrete emotions. Future research could potentially investigate emotional subtypes within other discrete categories, mixed emotion subtypes, and age differences in emotion regulation strategies within emotion subtypes.