An Investigation of Age-Related Differences in Understanding of Empathy and Emotions
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The current study investigated age-related differences in social cognition, emotional understanding, Theory of Mind (ToM) and empathy. A new task assessing different aspects of social cognition (ToM, emotional understanding, knowledge/understanding of social rules) using cartoon-strip stories was applied in conjunction with established measures of emotion recognition (‘the faces task’, or FEEST), ToM (‘Reading the mind in the eyes task’), empathy (IRI) and executive functions (Brixton Spatial Anticipation Task). Results obtained from 20 elderly adults (aged 56-84) were compared to results from 20 younger adults (aged 19-26). Significant differences in all tasks were found with younger participants performing better than their older counterparts. Older people were less able to recognize sad and fearful emotional expressions, interpret people’s mindset from eye-region-only stimuli, scored lower on the executive functions task and reported themselves to be less empathetic. While there was a difference of overall age on the Social Cartoon Task, no differences were detected on the subscales. Different perspectives on emotional aging (neuropsychological and sociocognitive) are being discussed to interpret results. It is suggested that recent research indicates a development towards the formation of a neurocognitive view combining both approaches.