Degree Date

5-2016

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Abstract

Increasing age is accompanied by declines in cognition, memory, and mental quickness. Specifically, research suggests that emotion recognition is just one of the many cognitive abilities that decreases as part of the healthy aging process. This paper summarizes the cognitive decline that accompanies aging, details evidence for the frontal lobe theory of cognitive decline, reviews the literature on emotion recognition in both younger and older adults, proposes a list a potential predictive factors, other than age, that might play a role in emotion recognition performance, and highlights the importance of using ecologically valid measures of emotion recognition. Possible predictive factors (age, general cognitive function, frontal lobe function, personality characteristics, and theory of mind ability) of emotion recognition performance were investigated. A traditional measure, along with a new dynamic, multi-dimensional approach, were implemented to explore which factors most highly predict emotion recognition performance in both younger and older adults. Younger adults (n=60, 18-30 years old) outperformed older adults (n=60, 60-76 years old) on both tasks indicating that older adults exhibit decreased emotion recognition ability compared to younger adults when both static and dynamic stimuli are used. In other words, commonly found age differences in emotion recognition persisted even when the tasks were modified to increase ecological validity and generalizability and when the stimuli used contain either contextual information or are void of such details. Two cognitive functioning measures and one personality characteristic significantly predicted older adult emotion recognition performance. No significant predictors of younger adult emotion recognition performance were found.

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