Do We Get Better at Picking Our Battles? Age Group Differences in Descriptions of Behavioral Reactions to Interpersonal Tensions

Individuals of various ages may react in different ways when they are upset with their social partners. This study examines age group differences in descriptions of behavioral reactions to interpersonal tensions. Participants ages 13 to 99 (84 men, 100 women) described interpersonal tensions that occurred with close and problematic social network members. Descriptions were coded with Rusbult's typology of conflict strategies (voice, loyalty, neglect, exit). Multilevel models revealed that older adults were more likely to report loyalty strategies (e.g., doing nothing) while younger people were more likely to report exit (e.g., yelling) strategies in response to interpersonal problems. These age differences were not accounted for by intensity of distress, relationship quality, contact frequency, or type of social partner. It appears that individuals are better able to regulate their behavioral responses to interpersonal problems as they age. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]