Dynamic integration theory (DIT) describes emotion development across the lifespan, from childhood to old age. In doing so, DIT draws on a number of perspectives, such as equilibrium theories, theories of cognitive development, and theories of behavioral adaptation, and takes a strong cognitive-developmental view on emotion experience and emotion regulation. Two propositions are at the core of DIT. First, the development of emotion experience and emotion regulation proceeds from simple and automatic reactions to increasingly complex and integrated cognitive-affective structures (i.e., schemas). These cognitive-affective structures can be ordered in terms of increasing levels of cognitive complexity and integration, with integration referring to a person’s ability to acknowledge both positive and negative affect states and to tolerate and reconcile the contradictions and tensions that these states generate. Second, DIT also postulates that the efficiency with which cognitive-affective systems work is a result of the dynamic interplay between contextual variables and person-specific characteristics. Three key factors contribute to this dynamic interplay between person and context: (1) the strength of the affective arousal, (2) the person’s cognitive resources for dealing with different affect states, and (3) pre-existing trait-like dispositions and reaction tendencies that may either hinder or facilitate emotion regulation. Thus, a person’s emotion experience and emotion regulation in a given situation are the product of the dynamic interaction of these factors. Considerable empirical evidence supports the theoretical propositions of DIT, including findings speaking to changes in emotion experience and emotion regulation in later life when declines in cognitive functioning tend to become normative.
Manfred Diehl, Eden Griffin, and Allyson Brothers
Joseph A. Mikels and Nathaniel A. Young
The adult life span is characterized as a time of divergent trajectories. It is a time of compounding losses (such as physical, sensory, and cognitive declines) and is also a time of surprising growth (such as improvements in well-being and emotion regulation). These divergent trajectories present theorists with the paradox of aging: in the face of accumulating losses, how is it that as people age, they generally feel good and experience greater well-being? Theorists have grappled with this paradox and have focused on how motivational, cognitive, control, and social factors impact emotional development across the adult life span. These foundational theories have paved the way to a deeper understanding of adult life-span development, but they do not draw as deeply from theories in affective science. Some of the latest perspectives on emotion and aging offer integrative views, such as how older adults may experience different discrete emotion (i.e., anger versus sadness) from an evolutionary functional perspective. Other perspectives consider how an array of appraisal processes may change across adulthood (such as shifts in evaluations of self-control versus other-control for younger versus older adults). These newer approaches dig deeper into mechanistic explanations and underscore the need for greater theoretical integration. Later life is clearly a time of increased well-being, but the field is only on the cusp of understanding the mysteries of emotional experience in later life.