‘Anger’ is more harmful to the health of older adults than sadness: New Research

Associated with increased inflammation, which can lead to chronic disease, Research says

As per the recent research published in Psychology and Aging (American Psychological Association) remarked that, “Anger could be more harmful to the physical health of older adults as compared to sadness, potentially putting them to a higher risk of inflammation, which is associated with heart disease, arthritis and cancer,” In this study, The researchers collected and analysed the data from 226 older adults aged 59 to 93 years from Montreal. They grouped participants as being in early old age, 59 to 79 years old or advanced old age, 80 years old and older.

The study’s findings inform theories of health, emotion, and life span development by pointing to the age-related importance of discrete negative emotions in predicting a major physiological pathway to physical health across older adulthood, Anger, but Not Sadness, Associated With Chronic Inflammation and Illness in Older Adulthood?

Meanwhile, “Our study showed that anger can lead to the development of chronic illnesses, whereas sadness did not,” As most people age, they simply cannot do the activities they once did, or they may experience the loss of a spouse or a decline in their physical mobility and they can become angry,” Meaghan A. Barlow, MA, Carsten Wrosch, Jean-Philippe Gouin and Ute Kunzmann. Is Anger, but Not Sadness, Associated With Chronic Inflammation and Illness in Older Adulthood? Psychology and Aging, 2019.

Carsten Wrosch, Co-authors of this study remarked that, “We found that experiencing anger daily was related to higher levels of inflammation and chronic illness for people 80 years old and older, but not for younger seniors,” “Sadness, on the other hand, was not related to inflammation or chronic illness,”. As per the lead Author ‘Barlow’ and her co-authors remarked that, “Whether anger and sadness contributed to inflammation, an immune response by the body to perceived threats, such as infection or tissue damage. While inflammation, in general, helps protect the body and assists in healing, long-lasting inflammation can lead to chronic illnesses in old age”.

Following the Research inputs, Negative life events and stressful experiences can elicit a host of negative emotions that can become chronic and jeopardize health behaviors (e.g., physical activity, Roshanaei-Moghaddam, Katon, & Russo, 2009) or dysregulate physiological processes in the neuroendocrine and autonomic systems (e.g., cortisol; Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, & Miller, 2007; Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, & Glaser, 2002), which may further modulate immune function (e.g., chronic low-grade inflammation, Miller, Cohen, & Ritchey, 2002).

According to the authors, Over one week, participants completed short questionnaires about how angry or sad they felt. It also measured inflammation from blood samples and asked participants if they had any age-related chronic illnesses. Sadness may help older seniors adjust to challenges such as age-related physical and cognitive declines because it can help them disengage from goals that are no longer attainable, The study has shown.

Although, This study showed that not all negative emotions are inherently bad and can be beneficial under certain circumstances, as authors explained. “Anger is an energising emotion that can help motivate people to pursue life goals. Younger seniors may be able to use that anger as fuel to overcome life’s challenges and emerging age-related losses and that can keep them healthier. Anger becomes problematic for adults once they reach 80 years old, however, because that is when many experience irreversible losses and some of life’s pleasures fall out of reach,”.

For authors, Education and therapy may help older adults reduce anger by regulating their emotions or by offering better coping strategies to manage the inevitable changes that accompany aging. “If we better understand which negative emotions are harmful, not harmful or even beneficial to older people, we can teach them how to cope with loss in a healthy way,”. “This may help them let go of their anger.” The study reported.

The discrete emotion theory of affective aging postulates that anger, but not sadness, becomes increas- ingly maladaptive during older adulthood in predicting health-relevant physiological processes and chronic disease (Kunzmann & Wrosch, 2018).

Moreover, It examined the age-related associations between older adults daily experiences of anger and sadness with indicators of chronic low-grade inflammation (i.e., interleukin-6 [IL-6] and C-reactive protein [CRP]- See in a research) and chronic illness (e.g., arthritis, cancer, or diabetes) in an age-heterogeneous sample of community dwelling older adults. Given that anger could become increasingly maladaptive, and sadness increasingly adaptive during older adulthood, we hypothesized interaction effects to emerge between sadness and anger with age in predicting older adults chronic inflammation and illness: The study asserted.

Despite all of this, The study examined only ‘sadness’ and ‘anger’ because theoretical model has focused thus far on the age-related functions of these two discrete emotions. And the study’s results were drawn from cross-sectional data, making it impossible to determine causality. Future research should therefore replicate with such findings using ‘longitudinal’ and ‘experimental designs’. Notably, The data were drawn from the Montreal Aging and Health Study (MAHS). After 10 years of data collection, the sample was refreshed, and new measures that are pertinent for the present study. Consequently, only cross-sectional data from this time point were analyzed. 


  • “Is Anger, but Not Sadness, Associated With Chronic Inflammation and Illness in Older Adulthood?” by Meaghan A. Barlow, MA, Carsten Wrosch, PhD, Jean-Philippe Gouin, PhD, Concordia University, and Ute Kunzmann, PhD, University of Leipzig. Psychology and Aging. Published May 9, 2019.
  • Barlow, M. A., Wrosch, C., Heckhausen, J., & Schulz, R. (2017). Control strategies for managing physical health problems in old age: Evidence for the motivational theory of life-span development. In J. W. Reich & F. J. Infurna (Eds.), Perceived control: Theory, research, and practice in the first 50 years (pp. 281–307). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • American Psychological Association.

Author: Trilok Singh (

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