An Investigation into the Effects of Healthy Adult Aging on the Implicit Processing of Facial Expressions
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Hatt, Alexandra M.
Previous research has shown that older adults are impaired on tasks involving the labelling of facial expressions. The first aim of the present study was to determine whether the pattern of age effects found in these studies would be replicated if a newer, more up-to-date stimulus set was employed, the NimStim Emotional Face Stimuli set. There is evidence that facial expressions can be processed both explicitly (consciously) and implicitly (automatically and unconsciously). In the present study it was proposed that the implicit processing of facial expressions may be unaffected by the aging process, enabling older adults to continue to monitor and adjust their behaviour in social interactions and also mirroring the effects of aging on implicit memory. Participants were split into two age groups: younger adults (n=20) between 18 and 40 years of age and older adults (n=20) between 60 and 85 years of age. Both groups were presented with two tasks: an explicit labelling task and an implicit matching task, as well as several background measures of cognitive ability. The implicit task was based on a matching task used by Milders, Bell, Platt, Serrano & Runcie. (in press). It was found that the pattern of results in the explicit task was replicated to a certain extent; older adults were significantly worse at recognising sad facial expressions whilst the recognition of disgusted expressions was preserved. In the implicit task age effects were found when surprised, frightened and happy expressions were presented. Therefore, no evidence was found that implicit processing of facial expressions is unaffected in aging. However, the true implicit nature of the task is speculative. It may be that the pattern of age effects found was due to inherent task difficulty and the decline of cognitive factors such as speed of processing. Future research should aim to develop the implicit paradigm further, in order to create a more reliable measure of implicit processing, and accurately determine the effects of aging on facial expression recognition.