Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Derek R. Hopko

Committee Members

Diane Klein, Jenny Macfie, Todd Moore


Experiential avoidance (EA) is an unwillingness to remain in contact with private and overt experiences, with higher EA associated with increased psychopathology. This study investigated relationships among EA, age, and the use of emotion words in positive and negative autobiographical narratives, as well as whether EA was associated with depression, anxiety, quality of life, and social support. Participants included younger (n=60) and older adults (n=60), who completed a positive and negative emotion narrative task along with measures of psychopathology. Results indicated that relative to younger adults, older adults spoke for longer time intervals in both narrative conditions. EA did not significantly affect narrative duration in either age cohort. However, despite longer narrative durations, older adults high in EA used fewer negative emotion words in the negative emotion narrative task compared to young adults high in EA. EA was positively associated with anxiety and depression and inversely related to quality of life and social support. Results are explained in the developmental context of the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (Carstensen, 1991), which posits that young adults are more prone to communicate in situations that involve information attainment, whereas older adults verbal behaviors may be more a function of emotion regulation. Clinical implications are discussed.

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