EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION

Running head: EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 1

Effects of Age on Detection of Emotional Information

Christina M. Leclerc and Elizabeth A. Kensinger

Boston College

Author Note

This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BCS 0542694

awarded to Elizabeth A. Kensinger.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Christina M. Leclerc,

Department of Psychology, Boston College, McGuinn Hall, Room 512, 140 Commonwealth

Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. Email: christina.leclerc.1@bc.edu

Christina M. Leclerc and Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Department of Psychology,

Boston College.

Author Note

arch was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BCS 0542694

beth A. Kensinger.

ndence concerning this article should be addressed to Christina M. Leclerc,

sychology, Boston College, McGuinn Hall, Room 512, 140 Commonwealth

ut Hill, MA 02467. Email: christina.leclerc.1@bc.edu

M. Leclerc and Elizabeth A. Kensinger, Department of Psychology,

Writing the abstract, 2.04

Establishing a title, 2.01; Preparing the manuscript for submission, 8.03

Formatting the author name (byline) and institutional affiliation, 2.02, Table 2.1

Double-spaced manuscript, Times Roman typeface, 1-inch margins, 8.03

Elements of an author note, 2.03

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 2

Abstract

Age differences were examined in affective processing, in the context of a visual search task.

Young and older adults were faster to detect high arousal images compared with low arousal and

neutral items. Younger adults were faster to detect positive high arousal targets compared with

other categories. In contrast, older adults exhibited an overall detection advantage for emotional

images compared with neutral images. Together, these findings suggest that older adults do not

display valence-based effects on affective processing at relatively automatic stages.

Keywords: aging, attention, information processing, emotion, visual search

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (The numbers refer to numbered sections in the Publication Manual.)

Paper adapted from “Effects of Age on Detection of Emotional Information,” by C. M. Leclerc and E. A. Kensinger, 2008, Psychology and Aging, 23, pp. 209–215. Copyright 2008 by the American Psychological Association.

 

 

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 3

Effects of Age on Detection of Emotional Information

Frequently, people encounter situations in their environment in which it is impossible to

attend to all available stimuli. It is therefore of great importance for one’s attentional processes to

select only the most salient information in the environment to which one should attend. Previous

research has suggested that emotional information is privy to attentional selection in young

adults (e.g.,

& Tapia, 2004; Nummenmaa, Hyona, & Calvo, 2006), an obvious service to evolutionary drives

to approach rewarding situations and to avoid threat and danger (Davis & Whalen, 2001; Dolan

& Vuilleumier, 2003; Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1997; LeDoux, 1995).

For example, Ohman, Flykt, and Esteves (2001)presented participants with 3 × 3 visual

arrays with images representing four categories (snakes, spiders, flowers, mushrooms). In half

the arrays, all nine images were from the same category, whereas in the remaining half of the

arrays, eight images were from one category and one image was from a different category (e.g.,

eight flowers and one snake). Participants were asked to indicate whether the matrix included a

discrepant stimulus. Results indicated that fear-relevant images were more quickly detected than

fear-irrelevant items, and larger search facilitation effects were observed for participants who

were fearful of the stimuli. A similar pattern of results has been observed when examining the

attention-grabbing nature of negative facial expressions, with threatening faces (including those

not attended to) identified more quickly than positive or neutral faces (Eastwood, Smilek, &

Merikle, 2001; Hansen & Hansen, 1988). The enhanced detection of emotional information is

not limited to threatening stimuli; there is evidence that any high-arousing stimulus can be

detected rapidly, regardless of whether it is positively or negatively valenced (Anderson, 2005;

Anderson, 2005; Calvo & Lang, 2004; Carretie, Hinojosa, Marin-Loeches, Mecado,

ant stimulus. Results indicated that fearr-rr relevant images were more quickly detected than

elevant items, and larger search facilitation effects were observed for participants who aa

arful of the stimuli. A similar pattern of results has been observed when examining the

n-grabbing nature of negative facial expressions, with threatening faces (includ- ing those

nded to) identified more quickly than positive or neutral faces (Eastwood, Smilek, &

e, 2001; Hansen & Hansen, 1988). The enhanced detection of emotional information is

ited to threatening stimuli; there is evidence that any high-arousing stimulus can be

d rapidly, regardless of whether it is positively or negatively valenced (Anderson,(( 2005;55

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 4

Calvo & Lang, 2004; Carretie et al., 2004; Juth, Lundqvist, Karlsson, & Ohman, 2005;

Nummenmaa et al., 2006).

From this research, it seems clear that younger adults show detection benefits for

arousing information in the environment. It is less clear whether these effects are preserved

across the adult life span. The focus of the current research is on determining the extent to which

aging influences the early, relatively automatic detection of emotional information.

Regions of the brain thought to be important for emotional detection remain relatively

intact with aging (reviewed by Chow & Cummings, 2000). Thus, it is plausible that the detection

of emotional information remains relatively stable as adults age. However, despite the

preservation of emotion-processing regions with age (or perhaps because of the contrast between

the preservation of these regions and age-related declines in cognitive-processing regions; Good

et al., 2001; Hedden & Gabrieli, 2004; Ohnishi, Matsuda, Tabira, Asada, & Uno, 2001; Raz,

2000; West, 1996), recent behavioral research has revealed changes that occur with aging in the

regulation and processing of emotion. According to the socioemotional selectivity theory

(Carstensen, 1992), with aging, time is perceived as increasingly limited, and as a result, emotion

regulation becomes a primary goal (Carstensen, Isaacowitz, & Charles, 1999). According to

socioemotional selectivity theory, age is associated with an increased motivation to derive

emotional meaning from life and a simultaneous decreasing motivation to expand one’s

knowledge base. As a consequence of these motivational shifts, emotional aspects of the

Writing the introduction, 2.05

Ordering citations within the same parentheses, 6.16

Selecting the correct tense, 3.18

Continuity in presentation of ideas, 3.05

Citing one work by six or more authors, 6.12

No capitalization in naming theories, 4.16

Numbers expressed in words, 4.32

Numbers that represent statistical or mathematical functions, 4.31

Use of hyphenation for compound words, 4.13, Table 4.1

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (continued)

 

 

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 5

To maintain positive affect in the face of negative age-related change (e.g., limited time

remaining, physical and cognitive decline), older adults may adopt new cognitive strategies. One

such strategy, discussed recently, is the positivity effect (Carstensen & Mikels, 2005), in which

older adults spend proportionately more time processing positive emotional material and less

time processing negative emotional material. Studies examining the influence of emotion on

memory (Charles, Mather, & Carstensen, 2003; Kennedy, Mather, & Carstensen, 2004) have

found that compared with younger adults, older adults recall proportionally more positive

information and proportionally less negative information. Similar results have been found when

examining eye-tracking patterns: Older adults looked at positive images longer than younger

adults did, even when no age differences were observed in looking time for negative stimuli

(Isaacowitz, Wadlinger, Goren, & Wilson, 2006). However, this positivity effect has not gone

uncontested; some researchers have found evidence inconsistent with the positivity effect (e.g.,

Grühn, Smith, & Baltes, 2005; Kensinger, Brierley, Medford, Growdon, & Corkin, 2002).

Based on this previously discussed research, three competing hypotheses exist to explain

age differences in emotional processing associated with the normal aging process. First,

emotional information may remain important throughout the life span, leading to similarly

facilitated detection of emotional information in younger and older adults. Second, with aging,

emotional information may take on additional importance, resulting in older adults’ enhanced

detection of emotional information in their environment. Third, older adults may focus

principally on positive emotional information and may show facilitated detection of positive, but

not negative, emotional information.

The primary goal in the present experiment was to adjudicate among these alternatives.

To do so, we employed a visual search paradigm to assess young and older adults’ abilities to

motional processing associated with the normal aging process. First,

n may remain important throughout the life span, leading to similarly

of emotional information in younger and older adults. Second, with aging,

n may take on additional importance, resulting in older adults’ enhanced

al information in their environment. Third, older adults may focus

e emotional information and may show facilitated detection of positive, but

nal information.

goal in the present experiment was to adjudicate among these alternatives.

ed a visual search paradigm to assess young and older adults’ abilities to

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 6

rapidly detect emotional information. We hypothesized that on the whole, older adults would be

slower to detect information than young adults would be (consistent with Hahn, Carlson, Singer,

& Gronlund, 2006; Mather & Knight, 2006); the critical question was whether the two age

groups would show similar or divergent facilitation effects with regard to the effects of emotion

on item detection. On the basis of the existing literature, the first two previously discussed

hypotheses seemed to be more plausible than the third alternative. This is because there is reason

to think that the positivity effect may be operating only at later stages of processing (e.g.,

strategic, elaborative, and emotion regulation processes) rather than at the earlier stages of

processing involved in the rapid detection of information (see Mather & Knight, 2005, for

discussion). Thus, the first two hypotheses, that emotional information maintains its importance

across the life span or that emotional information in general takes on greater importance with

age, seemed particularly applicable to early stages of emotional processing.

Indeed, a couple of prior studies have provided evidence for intact early processing of

emotional facial expressions with aging. Mather and Knight (2006) examined young and older

adults’ abilities to detect happy, sad, angry, or neutral faces presented in a complex visual array.

Mather and Knight found that like younger adults, older adults detected threatening faces more

quickly than they detected other types of emotional stimuli. Similarly, Hahn et al. (2006) also

found no age differences in efficiency of search time when angry faces were presented in an

array of neutral faces, compared with happy faces in neutral face displays. When angry faces,

compared with positive and neutral faces, served as nontarget distractors in the visual search

arrays, however, older adults were more efficient in searching, compared with younger adults,

Capitalization of words beginning a sentence after a colon, 4.14

Using the colon between two grammatically complete clauses, 4.05

Using the semicolon to separate two independent clauses not joined by a conjunction, 4.04

Using the comma between elements in a series, 4.03

Punctuation with citations in parenthetical material, 6.21

Citing references in text, inclusion of year within paragraph, 6.11, 6.12

Hypotheses and their correspondence to research design, Introduction, 2.05

Prefixes and suffixes that do not require hyphens, Table 4.2

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (continued)

 

 

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 7

negative stimuli were not of equivalent arousal levels (fearful faces typically are more arousing

than happy faces; Hansen & Hansen, 1988). Given that arousal is thought to be a key factor in

modulating the attentional focus effect (Hansen & Hansen, 1988; Pratto & John, 1991; Reimann

& McNally, 1995), to more clearly understand emotional processing in the context of aging, it is

necessary to include both positive and negative emotional items with equal levels of arousal.

In the current research, therefore, we compared young and older adults’ detection of four

categories of emotional information (positive high arousal, positive low arousal, negative high

arousal, and negative low arousal) with their detection of neutral information. The positive and

negative stimuli were carefully matched on arousal level, and the categories of high and low

arousal were closely matched on valence to assure that the factors of valence (positive, negative)

and arousal (high, low) could be investigated independently of one another. Participants were

presented with a visual search task including images from these different categories (e.g., snakes,

cars, teapots). For half of the multi-image arrays, all of the images were of the same item, and for

the remaining half of the arrays, a single target image of a different type from the remaining

items was included. Participants were asked to decide whether a different item was included in

the array, and their reaction times were recorded for each decision. Of primary interest were

differences in response times (RTs) based on the valence and arousal levels of the target

categories. We reasoned that if young and older adults were equally focused on emotional

information, then we would expect similar degrees of facilitation in the detection of emotional

stimuli for the two age groups. By contrast, if older adults were more affectively focused than

were younger adults, older adults should show either faster detection speeds for all of the

emotional items (relative to the neutral items) than shown by young adults or greater facilitation

g y , g ,

single target image of a different type from the remaining

were asked to decide whether a different item was included in

were recorded for each decision. Of primary interest were

) based on the valence and arousal levels of the target

ung and older adults were equally focused on emotional

t similar degrees of facilitation in the detection of emotional

contrast, if older adults were more affectively focused than

should show either faster detection speeds for all of the

utral items) than shown by young adults or greater facilitation

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 8

for the arousing items than shown by the young adults (resulting in an interaction between age

and arousal).

Method

Participants

Younger adults (14 women, 10 men, Mage = 19.5 years, age range: 18–22 years) were

recruited with flyers posted on the Boston College campus. Older adults (15 women, nine men,

Mage = 76.1 years, age range: 68–84 years) were recruited through the Harvard Cooperative on

Aging (see Table 1, for demographics and test scores).1 Participants were compensated $10 per

hour for their participation. There were 30 additional participants, recruited in the same way as

described above, who provided pilot rating values: five young and five old participants for the

assignment of items within individual categories (i.e., images depicting cats), and 10 young and

10 old participants for the assignment of images within valence and arousal categories. All

participants were asked to bring corrective eyewear if needed, resulting in normal or corrected

to normal vision for all participants.

Materials and Procedure

The visual search task was adapted from Ohman et al. (2001). There were 10 different

types of items (two each of five Valence × Arousal categories: positive high arousal, positive low

arousal, neutral, negative low arousal, negative high arousal), each containing nine individual

exemplars that were used to construct 3 × 3 stimulus matrices. A total of 90 images were used,

each appearing as a target and as a member of a distracting array. A total of 360 matrices were

presented to each participant; half contained a target item (i.e., eight items of one type and one

target item of another type) and half did not (i.e., all nine images of the same type). Within the

Prefixed words that require hyphens, Table 4.3

Using abbreviations, 4.22; Explanation of abbreviations, 4.23; Abbreviations used often in APA journals, 4.25; Plurals of abbreviations, 4.29

Elements of the Method section, 2.06; Organizing a manuscript with levels of heading, 3.03

Using numerals to express numbers representing age, 4.31

Identifying subsections within the Method section, 2.06

Participant (subject) characteristics, Method, 2.06

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (continued)

 

 

Running head: EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 10

selected such that the arousal difference between positive low arousal and positive high arousal

was equal to the difference between negative low arousal and negative high arousal.

Similarity ratings. Each item was rated for within-category and between-categories

similarity. For within-category similarity, participants were shown a set of exemplars (e.g., a set

of mushrooms) and were asked to rate how similar each mushroom was to the rest of the

mushrooms, on a 1 (entirely dissimilar) to 7 (nearly identical) scale. Participants made these

ratings on the basis of overall similarity and on the basis of the specific visual dimensions in

which the objects could differ (size, shape, orientation). Participants also rated how similar

objects of one category were to objects of another category (e.g., how similar the mushrooms

were to the snakes). Items were selected to assure that the categories were equated on within-

category and between-categories similarity of specific visual dimensions as well as for the

overall similarity of the object categories (ps > .20). For example, we selected particular

mushrooms and particular cats so that the mushrooms were as similar to one another as were the

cats (i.e., within-group similarity was held constant across the categories). Our object selection

also assured that the categories differed from one another to a similar degree (e.g., that the

mushrooms were as similar to the snakes as the cats were similar to the snakes).

Procedure

Each trial began with a white fixation cross presented on a black screen for 1,000 ms; the

matrix was then presented, and it remained on the screen until a participant response was

recorded. Participants were instructed to respond as quickly as possible with a button marked yes

if there was a target present, or a button marked no if no target was present. Response latencies

and accuracy for each trial were automatically recorded with E-Prime (Version 1.2) experimental

Running head: EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTIONRR

selected such that the arousal difference between positive low arousal and positi

was equal to the difference between negative low arousal and negative high arou

Similarity ratings. Each item was rated for within-category and between

similarity. For within-category similarity, participants were shown a set of exem

of mushrooms) and were asked to rate how similar each mushroom was to the re

mushrooms, on a 1 (entirely dissimilar) to 7 (nearly identical(( ) scale. Participants

ratings on the basis of overall similarity and on the basis of the specific visual di

which the objects could differ (size, shape, orientation). Participants also rated h

objects of one category were to objects of another category (e.g., how similar the

were to the snakes). Items were selected to assure that the categories were equate

category and between-categories similarity of specific visual dimensions as well

overall similarity of the object categories (p(( s > .20). For example, we selected pa

h d ti l t th t th h i il t

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 9

matrix. Within the 180 target trials, each of the five emotion categories (e.g., positive high

arousal, neutral, etc.) was represented in 36 trials. Further, within each of the 36 trials for each

emotion category, nine trials were created for each of the combinations with the remaining four

other emotion categories (e.g., nine trials with eight positive high arousal items and one neutral

item). Location of the target was randomly varied such that no target within an emotion category

was presented in the same location in arrays of more than one other emotion category (i.e., a

negative high arousal target appeared in a different location when presented with positive high

arousal array images than when presented with neutral array images).

The items within each category of grayscale images shared the same verbal label (e.g.,

mushroom, snake), and the items were selected from online databases and photo clipart

packages. Each image depicted a photo of the actual object. Ten pilot participants were asked to

write down the name corresponding to each object; any object that did not consistently generate

the intended response was eliminated from the set. For the remaining images, an additional 20

pilot participants rated the emotional valence and arousal of the objects and assessed the degree

of visual similarity among objects within a set (i.e., how similar the mushrooms were to one

another) and between objects across sets (i.e., how similar the mushrooms were to the snakes).

Valence and arousal ratings. Valence and arousal were judged on 7-point scales (1 =

negative valence or low arousal and 7 = positive valence or high arousal). Negative objects

received mean valence ratings of 2.5 or lower, neutral objects received mean valence ratings of

3.5 to 4.5, and positive objects received mean valence ratings of 5.5 or higher. High arousal

objects received mean arousal ratings greater than 5, and low arousal objects (including all

neutral stimuli) received mean arousal ratings of less than 4. We selected categories for which

both young and older adults agreed on the valence and arousal classifications, and stimuli were

Latin abbreviations, 4.26

Numbers expressed in words at beginning of sentence, 4.32

Italicization of anchors of a scale, 4.21

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (continued)

 

 

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 11

software. Before beginning the actual task, participants performed 20 practice trials to assure

compliance with the task instructions.

Results

Analyses focus on participants’ RTs to the 120 trials in which a target was present and

was from a different emotional category from the distractor (e.g., RTs were not included for

arrays containing eight images of a cat and one image of a butterfly because cats and butterflies

are both positive low arousal items). RTs were analyzed for 24 trials of each target emotion

category. RTs for error trials were excluded (less than 5% of all responses) as were RTs that

were ±3 SD from each participant ’s mean (approximately 1.5% of responses). Median RTs were

then calculated for each of the five emotional target categories, collapsing across array type (see

Table 2 for raw RT values for each of the two age groups). This allowed us to examine, for

example, whether participants were faster to detect images of snakes than images of mushrooms,

regardless of the type of array in which they were presented. Because our main interest was in

examining the effects of valence and arousal on participants’ target detection times, we created

scores for each emotional target category that controlled for the participant’s RTs to detect

neutral targets (e.g., subtracting the RT to detect neutral targets from the RT to detect positive

high arousal targets). These difference scores were then examined with a 2 × 2 × 2 (Age [young,

older] × Valence [positive, negative] × Arousal [high, low]) analysis of variance (ANOVA). This

ANOVA revealed only a significant main effect of arousal, F(1, 46) = 8.41, p = .006, ηp2 = .16,

with larger differences between neutral and high arousal images (M = 137) than between neutral

and low arousal images (M = 93; i.e., high arousal items processed more quickly across both age

groups compared with low arousal items; see Figure 1). There was no significant main effect for

valence, nor was there an interaction between valence and arousal. It is critical that the analysis

Symbols, 4.45; Numbers, 4.31

Abbreviations accepted as words, 4.24

Numbering and discussing figures in text, 5.05

Nouns followed by numerals or letters, 4.17

Reporting p values, decimal fractions, 4.35

Statistical symbols, 4.46, Table 4.5

Elements of the Results section, 2.07

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (continued)

 

 

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 12

revealed only a main effect of age but no interactions with age. Thus, the arousal-mediated

effects on detection time appeared stable in young and older adults.

The results described above suggested that there was no influence of age on the

influences of emotion. To further test the validity of this hypothesis, we submitted the RTs to the

five categories of targets to a 2 × 5 (Age [young, old] × Target Category [positive high arousal,

positive low arousal, neutral, negative low arousal, negative high arousal]) repeated measures

ANOVA.2 Both the age group, F(1, 46) = 540.32, p < .001, ηp2 = .92, and the ta rget category,

F(4, 184) = 8.98, p < .001, ηp2 = .16, main effects were significant, as well as the Age Group ×

Target Category interaction, F(4, 184) = 3.59, p = .008, ηp2 = .07. This interaction appeared to

reflect the fact that for the younger adults, positive high arousal targets were detected faster than

targets from all other categories, ts(23) < –1.90,p < .001, with no other target categories

differing significantly from one another (although there were trends for negative high arousal

and negative low arousal targets to be detected more rapidly than neutral targets (p < .12). For

older adults, all emotional categories of targets were detected more rapidly than were neutral

targets, ts(23) > 2.56, p < .017, and RTs to the different emotion categories of targets did not

differ significantly from one another. Thus, these results provided some evidence that older

adults may show a broader advantage for detection of any type of emotional information,

whereas young adults’ benefit may be more narrowly restricted to only certain categories of

emotional information.

Discussion

As outlined previously, there were three plausible alternatives for young and older adults’

performance on the visual search task: The two age groups could show a similar pattern of

enhanced detection of emotional information, older adults could show a greater advantage for

Elements of the Discussion section, 2.08

Statistics in text, 4.44

Capitalize effects or variables when they appear with multiplication signs, 4.20

Spacing, alignment, and punctuation of mathematical copy, 4.46

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (continued)

 

 

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 13

emotional detection than young adults, or older adults could show a greater facilitation than

young adults only for the detection of positive information. The results lent some support to the

first two alternatives, but no evidence was found to support the third alternative.

In line with the first alternative, no effects of age were found when the influence of

valence and arousal on target detection times was examined; both age groups showed only an

arousal effect. This result is consistent with prior studies that indicated that arousing information

can be detected rapidly and automatically by young adults (Anderson, Christoff, Panitz, De

Rosa, & Gabrieli, 2003; Ohman & Mineka, 2001) and that older adults, like younger adults,

continue to display a threat detection advantage when searching for negative facial targets in

arrays of positive and neutral distractors (Hahn et al., 2006; Mather & Knight, 2006). Given the

relative preservation of automatic processing with aging (Fleischman, Wilson, Gabrieli, Bienias,

& Bennett, 2004; Jennings & Jacoby, 1993), it makes sense that older adults would remain able

to take advantage of these automatic alerting systems for detecting high arousal information.

However, despite the similarity in arousal-mediated effects on detection between the two

age groups, the present study did provide some evidence for age-related change (specifically,

age-related enhancement) in the detection of emotional information. When examining RTs for

the five categories of emotional targets, younger adults were more efficient in detecting positive

high arousal images (as presented in Table 2), whereas older adults displayed an overall

advantage for detecting all emotional images compared with neutral images. This pattern

suggests a broader influence of emotion on older adults’ detection of stimuli, providing support

for the hypothesis that as individuals age, emotional information becomes more salient.

It is interesting that this second set of findings is clearly inconsistent with the hypothesis

that the positivity effect in older adults operates at relatively automatic stages of information

nd neutral distractors (Hahn et al., 2006; Mather & Knight, 2006). Given the 66

n of automatic processing with aging (Fleischman, Wilson, Gabrieli, Bienias,

nnings & Jacoby, 1993), it makes sense that older adults would remain able 33

f these automatic alerting systems for detecting high arousal information.

espite the similarity in arousal-mediated effects on detection between the two

ent study did provide some evidence for age-related change (specifically,

ment) in the detection of emotional information. When examining RTs for

of emotional targets, younger adults were more efficient in detecting positive

(as presented in Table 2), whereas older adults displayed an overall22

ting all emotional images compared with neutral images. This pattern

nfluence of emotion on older adults’ detection of stimuli, providing support

hat as individuals age, emotional information becomes more salient.

ng that this second set of findings is clearly inconsistent with the hypothesis

ffect in older adults operates at relatively automatic stages of information

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 14

processing, given that no effects of valence were observed in older adults’ detection speed. In the

present study, older adults were equally fast to detect positive and negative information,

consistent with prior research that indicated that older adults often attend equally to positive and

negative stimuli (Rosler et al., 2005). Although the pattern of results for the young adults has

differed across studies—in the present study and in some past research, young adults have shown

facilitated detection of positive information (e.g., Anderson, 2005; Calvo & Lang, 2004; Carretie

et al., 2004; Juth et al., 2005; Nummenmaa et al., 2006), whereas in other studies, young adults

have shown an advantage for negative information (e.g., Armony & Dolan, 2002; Hansen &

Hansen, 1988; Mogg, Bradley,de Bono, & Painter, 1997; Pratto & John, 1991; Reimann &

McNally, 1995; Williams, Mathews, & MacLeod, 1996)—what is important to note is that the

older adults detected both positive and negative stimuli at equal rates. This equivalent detection

of positive and negative information provides evidence that older adults display an advantage for

the detection of emotional information that is not valence-specific.

Thus, although younger and older adults exhibited somewhat divergent patterns of

emotional detection on a task reliant on early, relatively automatic stages of processing, we

found no evidence of an age-related positivity effect. The lack of a positivity focus in the older

adults is in keeping with the proposal (e.g., Mather & Knight, 2006) that the positivity effect

does not arise through automatic attentional influences. Rather, when this effect is observed in

older adults, it is likely due to age-related changes in emotion regulation goals that operate at

later stages of processing (i.e., during consciously controlled processing), once information has

been attended to and once the emotional nature of the stimulus has been discerned.

Although we cannot conclusively say that the current task relies strictly on automatic

processes, there are two lines of evidence suggesting that the construct examined in the current

Clear statement of support or nonsupport of hypotheses, Discussion, 2.08

Use of an em dash to indicate an interruption in the continuity of a sentence, 4.06; Description of an em dash, 4.13

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (continued)

 

 

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 15

research examines relatively automatic processing. First, in their previous work, Ohman et al.

(2001) compared RTs with both 2 × 2 and 3 × 3 arrays. No significant RT differences based on

the number of images presented in the arrays were found. Second, in both Ohman et al.’s (2001)

study and the present study, analyses were performed to examine the influence of target location

on RT. Across both studies, and across both age groups in the current work, emotional targets

were detected more quickly than were neutral targets, regardless of their location. Together,

these findings suggest that task performance is dependent on relatively automatic detection

processes rather than on controlled search processes.

Although further work is required to gain a more complete understanding of the age-

related changes in the early processing of emotional information, our findings indicate that

young and older adults are similar in their early detection of emotional images. The current

study provides further evidence that mechanisms associated with relatively automatic processing

of emotional images are well maintained throughout the latter portion of the life span

(Fleischman et al., 2004; Jennings & Jacoby, 1993; Leclerc & Hess, 2005). It is critical that,

although there is evidence for a positive focus in older adults’ controlled processing of emotional

information (e.g., Carstensen & Mikels, 2005; Charles et al., 2003; Mather & Knight, 2005), the

present results suggest that the tendency to focus on the positive does not always arise when

tasks require relatively automatic and rapid detection of information in the environment.

he early processing of emotional information, our findings indicate that

ults are similar in their early detection of emotional images. The current

her evidence that mechanisms associated with relatively automatic processing

s are well maintained throughout the latter portion of the life span

2004; Jennings & Jacoby, 1993;33 Leclerc & Hess, 2005). It is critical that,

idence for a positive focus in older adults’ controlled processing of emotional

Carstensen & Mikels, 2005; Charles et al., 2003; Mather & Knight, 2005), the

est that the tendency to focus on the positive does not always arise when

ely automatic and rapid detection of information in the environment.

EFFECTS OF AGE ON DETECTION OF EMOTION 16

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Use of parallel construction with coordinating conjunctions used in pairs, 3.23

Discussion section ending with comments on importance of findings, 2.08

Construction of an accurate and complete reference list, 6.22; General desciption of references, 2.11

Figure 2.1. Sample One-Experiment Paper (continued)

 

 

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Dolan, R. J., & Vu

of the New

Eastwood, J. D., S

attention an

Fleischman, D. A.

longitudina

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