Older adults appear to be better at identifying burdensome chores that need to get done around the house, such as trimming an overgrown tree or cleaning out the refrigerator, compared to young adults.
But when younger adults do correctly predict home-related stress, it is more likely to affect their mood — for better or for worse — compared to their older counterparts, according to a new study at North Carolina State University.
“Home stress, in this context, might be related to chores, home maintenance, and having too much to do around the house,” says lead author Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology.
For the study, 107 younger adults (aged 18-36) and 116 older adults (aged 60-90) completed a survey on eight consecutive days related to stressors, mood, the extent to which they predicted experiencing stress the following day, and how, if at all, they were using anticipatory coping mechanisms to prepare for those stressful events.
The researchers found that older adults predicted and experienced more stressful events at home than did younger adults. However, when younger adults did predict these stressful events, those stressors usually had less of a negative impact on their mood, and in fact, often had a positive efffect.
“We found that accurately predicting home stressors had very little impact on the mood of older adults. But it had a dramatically positive impact on younger adults,” says Neupert. “This suggests that younger adults are doing a better job of using some anticipatory coping skills to blunt the impact of home stressors — though there was one clear exception.”
The exception was when younger adults got stuck in so-called stagnant deliberation. Stagnant deliberation is when people try to solve a problem but feel like they’re not making any progress.
“It’s kind of like running in place mentally, and we found that younger adults who engaged in stagnant deliberation had a steep increase in negative affect when the home stressor happened,” Neupert says.
In other words, under these circumstances, the anticipatory coping actually backfires for young adults, making things worse. Meanwhile, stagnant deliberation didn’t appear to affect older adults one way or the other.
“This really highlights the distinctions between age groups when it comes to predicting and responding to stress in particular contexts,” Neupert says. “For example, this study also looked at stress in the workplace, and we found little difference across age groups. But in the home, the differences were dramatic.”
Source: North Carolina State University