The Effect of Age on Emotion Recognition from Facial Expressions and Gait in Healthy Younger and Older Adults
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Efficient social communication depends on the ability to successfully interpret and process emotional information from faces and other sensory systems. An age-related decline in ability to recognise emotions has been found widely in existing literature for healthy adults, but evidence has started to emerge that when emotional information from multi-sensory stimuli are presented congruently, the apparent decline in emotion recognition ability is seen to reduce. The study compared 19 younger adults (19-23 years) and 18 older adults (60-79 years) on their ability to identify emotions (Happiness, Sadness, Anger and Fear) from facial and gait stimuli alone, as well as on identification of cross-modal facial and gait stimuli presented congruently and incongruently. No age-related differences were found in ability to identify emotions from unimodal static facial expressions. Accurate identification of emotions in the unimodal dynamic gait stimuli condition, overall and specifically anger, was significantly lower in older adults. In the cross-modal stimuli identification task, older adults performed as well as younger adults in the identification of congruent facial and gait stimuli, but performance significantly declined in identification of the stimuli presented incongruently. The results indicate that although older adults suffer from a difficulty in identifying emotions from single modalities, this age-related impairment disappears when presented with congruent multisensory emotional information. This may suggest that impairment to older adults’ ability to recognise emotions in real-life situations is not as severe as once thought. Future research should aim to develop further, more ecologically valid techniques to more accurately test the impact of these findings on older adults.