Abstract

Objective: Affect suppression (AS), or regulation of overt emotional responses, is associated with subsequently-poor performance relative to controls on behavioral control tasks and measures of executive functioning in young adulthood. However, we are unaware of any previous studies testing the effect of AS on executive performance in older adulthood. Method: 22 adults (M = 68.5 yo; 54.5% female; M = 14.36 years of education) completed a screening of global cognitive functioning (Dementia Rating Scale; DRS-2) and four subtests from the Delis Kaplan Executive Functioning System combined into an executive composite (Exec-Baseline). Participants were then randomly assigned to undergo experimental manipulation of AS (viewing 5 minutes of disgusting and amusing videos) under one of two conditions: 1) Suppress (maintaining neutral affect) or 2) Free Expression (responding naturally). Participants then repeated the executive measures (Exec-Post). Results: Repeated measures analysis of variance with executive composites as dependent variables, assessment time (Baseline vs. Post) as the within-subjects factor, and experimental condition as the between-subjects factor showed a main effect of assessment time, F(1, 20) = 10.16, p = .005, and an interaction between assessment time and condition, F(1, 20) = 4.59, p = .045; Free Expression participants exhibited an average scaled score practice effect of 1.7 from Exec-Baseline to Post vs. an average scaled score improvement of .33 for Suppress participants. Groups differed on sex (Suppress = 33% female, Free Expression = 80% female) but were comparable on age, years of education, and DRS-2 scores. Conclusion(s): These results provide preliminary support for a depleting effect of AS on executive performance in older adulthood via attenuated practice effect.