The Age of Anxiety: A Multi-dimensional Perspective on Age and Anxiety Across the Adult Lifespan

Green, Jennifer, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Teachman, Bethany, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

In recent years, a growing body of research has begun to address the question of how anxiety presents in older as compared to younger adults. Despite the theoretical and treatment advances that have resulted, the field is lacking insight into how anxiety is experienced and expressed across the entire adult lifespan. Moreover, the small research body that has considered anxiety on an age continuum has been somewhat limited by not considering subjective or implicit age as elements of the age concept that may influence its relationship to anxiety. Given the high lifetime prevalence rate of anxiety problems, as well as our aging population, it is important to address these limitations. This dissertation, which is divided into three sub-studies, tests how the structures of anxiety (Study 1) and age (Study 2) differ across the adult lifespan and between genders, as well as whether the relationship between chronological age and anxiety is moderated by subjective age perception and/or implicit age (Study 3). Online volunteer participants (N = 1350) completed three measures of anxiety to assess anxious cognitions, feelings (somatic feelings and subjective distress), and behaviors, in addition to three measures of age (chronological, subjective, and implicit). Participants also completed brief health and memory functioning questionnaires.

Contrary to predictions, results of Study 1 supported age-invariance in anxiety with slight gender differences only evident during early adulthood (ages 25-44). Means on the anxiety measures generally demonstrated a linear decline with age. Results of Study 2 indicated that the construct of subjective age differed in emerging adulthood (ages 18-24) relative to the rest of adulthood, such that social age loaded especially strongly onto the latent subjective age factor in emerging adulthood (with lower, more moderate loadings for mental and look age), whereas all domains of subjective age (mental, social, physical, and look) loaded fairly comparably during the rest of adulthood. As hypothesized, emerging adults reported feeling older than their chronological age across most domains, whereas the opposite was true for participants age twenty-five and older. Regarding implicit age, all age groups demonstrated a bias to self-identify with young-related (relative to old-related) words, with the exception of older adults for whom no bias was evident,. Lastly and unexpectedly, in Study 3, neither subjective nor implicit age correlated with anxiety or moderated the relationship between chronological age and anxiety. Overall, findings support prior reports of an age-associated decline in anxiety and raise the question of what variables may account for the relationship between chronological age and anxiety, given perceived age does not appear central to this relationship.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
anxiety, lifespan development, subjective age, measurement invariance
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