Sarah E. DeAnna
The Ohio State University
 Most elders are not socially isolated and rely on the support
of informal network members in order to successfully age.
 These central networks are more likely to contain members of
one's family than friends.
 66 percent of older adults live in a family setting.
 Over half of those over age 65 live with a partner.
 Social support can act as a mediator in times of adversity
life stress and increase reported well-being overall.
 Unfavorable interpersonal interactions with close others
can negatively impact both physical and mental well-being.
Gadalla, 2010; Hooyman & Kiyak, 2010; Krause, 2005; Thomas, 2009
 Overall, research shows a decrease in reported
negative interaction by older persons versus younger
 3 longitudinal studies, 1 cross-sectional
 However, relational negativity varies by relationship
 Over time relationship negativity tends to decrease but
there are some exceptions.
 Stability in some studies.
 Spousal relationships.
Akiyama, Antonucci, Takahashi, & Langfahl, 2003; Birditt, Jackey, & Antonucci, 2009; Boerner,
Reinhardt, Raykov, & Horowitz, 2004; Fingerman & Birditt, 2003; Krause & Rook, 2003
 The spousal relationship is the biggest exception to
the rule with an increase in negativity with age and
over time.
 Respondents were more likely to report negativity in the
spousal relationship than any other relationship.
 Older adults also have increasing negativity with their
parents possibly due to the strains of caregiving.
 Family relations are likely to be more negative than
A lifespan theory of motivation developed by Stanford
psychologist Laura Carstensen in the early 1990s.
 As people age their perception of future time decreases
and they move toward a desire to stabilize and
maintain emotionally rewarding relationships
 Individuals go through a lifelong process of adaptively
selecting social partners “to maximize social and
emotional gains and minimize social and emotional
Carstensen, 1992; Lang & Carstensen, 2002
 Over half of those over age 65 live with a partner.
 In current research, the spousal relationship was more
likely to show increasing rather than decreasing
negativity over time and with age.
 As many as 20 percent of older adult couples report
“moderate or strong emotional or social loneliness in
their marriage”
 The strains of caregiving may contribute to
unhappiness, as these marriages were more likely to
contain a spouse with health problems
Hooyman & Kiyak, 2010
 Recent efforts in intervention with older adults focus
on increasing social integration and support but do
not acknowledge that not all socialization will be
beneficial for older adults.
 Although the benefits of social support are widely
known, much less is known about the efficacy of
support interventions.
 Inadequate research and practice in recent years has
focused on the goals of emotional closeness and
fulfillment that socioemotional selectivity theory
identifies as important to older adults.
 Practitioners should not assume that all social
encounters or support are going to be beneficial for
older adults.
Consider the changing social motivations of older
adults when developing interventions.
Increase interventions aimed at strengthening
More widespread use of couples counseling with this
Further research to inform practice.
Akiyama, H., Antonucci, T., Takahashi, K., & Langfahl, E. (2003). Negative interactions in close relationships
across the life span. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 58(2), P70.
Birditt, K., Jackey, L., & Antonucci, T. (2009). Longitudinal patterns of negative relationship quality across
adulthood. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 64(1), 55-64.
Boerner, K., Reinhardt, J., Raykov, T., & Horowitz, A. (2004). Stability and change in social negativity in later life:
Reducing received while maintaining initiated negativity. The Journals of Gerontology Series B:
Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 59(4), S230.
Carstensen, L. (1992). Social and emotional patterns in adulthood: Support for socioemotional selectivity theory.
Psychology and aging, 7, 331–331.
Carstensen, L. (2006). The influence of a sense of time on human development. Science, 312(5782), 1913.
Fingerman, K & Birditt, K. (2003). Does variation in close and problematic family ties reflect the pool of living
relatives? Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 58, P80-P87.
Gadalla, T. (2010). The Role of Mastery and Social Support in the Association Between Life Stressors and
Psychological Distress in Older Canadians. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 53(6), 512–530.
Hooyman, N. & Kiyak, H. (2010). Social Gerontology: A Multidisciplinary Perspective (9th ed.). Prentice Hall.
Krause, N. (2005). Negative interaction and heart disease in late life. Journal of Aging and Health, 17(1), 28.
Krause, N., & Rook, K. (2003). Negative interaction in late life: Issues in the stability and generalizability of
conflict across relationships. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social
Sciences, 58(2), P88.
Lang, F. & Carstensen, L. (2002). Time Counts: Future Time Perspective, Goals, and Social Relationships.
Psychology and aging, 17(1), 125–139.
Thomas, P. (2009). Is it better to give or to receive? Social support and the well-being of older adults. The
Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 65(3), p351-357.

Negative Social Interactions in Late Life: Socioemotional