An older adult positivity effect, i.e., the tendency for older adults to favor positive over negative stimulus information more than do younger adults, has been previously shown in attention, memory, and evaluations. This effect has been attributed to greater emotion regulation in older adults. In the case of attention and memory, this explanation has been supported by some evidence that the older adult positivity effect is most pronounced for negative stimuli, which would motivate emotion regulation, and that it is reduced by cognitive load, which would impede emotion regulation. We investigated whether greater older adult positivity in the case of evaluative responses to faces is also enhanced for negative stimuli and attenuated by cognitive load, as an emotion regulation explanation would predict. In two studies, younger and older adults rated trustworthiness of faces that varied in valence both under low and high cognitive load, with the latter manipulated by a distracting backwards counting task. In Study 1, face valence was manipulated by attractiveness (low /disfigured faces, medium, high/fashion models’ faces). In Study 2, face valence was manipulated by trustworthiness (low, medium, high). Both studies revealed a significant older adult positivity effect. However, contrary to an emotion regulation account, this effect was not stronger for more negative faces, and cognitive load increased rather than decreased the rated trustworthiness of negatively valenced faces. Although inconsistent with emotion regulation, the latter effect is consistent with theory and research arguing that more cognitive resources are required to process negative stimuli, because they are more cognitively elaborated than positive ones. The finding that increased age and increased cognitive load both enhanced the positivity of trustworthy ratings suggests that the older adult positivity effect in evaluative ratings of faces may reflect age-related declines in cognitive capacity rather than increases in the regulation of negative emotions.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Positivity in older adults is more related to cognitive decline than to emotion regulation.
It is commonly supposed that the more positive outlook characteristic of older people is due to their ability to regulate their emotions more effectively than younger people. Zebrowitz et al, to the contrary, suggest a decline in cognitive capacity is responsible, arguing that more cognitive resources are required to process negative stimuli, because they are more cognitively elaborated than positive ones: