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Older married couples use previous experience to gauge emotions of spouses

September 13, 2013

Understanding others' emotions is an important part of senior living, especially for married retirees. A new study from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Human Development found that while older adults may be less adept at reading their partner's facial expressions, their decades together equips them with the experience to accurately measure their emotions, according to findings published in Psychological Science.

The findings, are based on interviews with 100 couples. Some of those who were recruited were between the ages of 20 and 30, while others were between 69 and 80. Researchers asked participants to record their own emotions several times throughout the day as well as the emotions of their spouse, regardless of whether they were with one another. While older participants were not as good at judging their partners' emotional state from facial cues as their younger counterparts, they were equally good at assessing their mental state when they were separated. 

"Reading emotional expressions may become more difficult with age, but using one's knowledge about a familiar person remains a reliable strategy throughout adulthood," said lead researcher Antje Rauers. "This is really good news, given that the overwhelming majority of research findings testifies an age-related decline in many competencies." 

These most recent results aren't the only findings that may make people rethink the way they view older adults' cognitive function. In fact, contrary to popular belief, seniors can improve their brain health as they get older. A 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that an exercise as simple as walking can help seniors grow the volume of their brains, even in areas associated with memory.