Age Differences in Emotion Recognition of Briefly Presented Faces
Lisa Emery, Kory Morgan, Kaitlyn Pechanek & Caitlin Williams
EXPERIMENT 1: RESULTS
Previous research has found that, when identifying emotional
expressions from static faces, older adults show impaired
recognition for some emotions (e.g., sadness, fear, anger), but
spared or even improved recognition on others (e.g., happiness,
surprise, disgust). There are several limitations to previous
research, however, including possible ceiling effects in young
adults and a lack of ecological validity. In Experiment 1 we used
a modified emotion recognition test in which posed emotion
expressions were briefly presented in-between neutral
expressions, in order to mimic fleeting emotional expressions
and increase difficulty. In a second experiment, we tested the
potential role of age-related perceptual decline in emotion
recognition by mimicking these declines in younger adults.
EXPERIMENT 1: METHOD
• 51 younger adults (Ages 18-22; M = 19.0, SD = 1.07; 29 Women)
• 31 older adults (Ages 61-81; M = 69.3, SD = 5.80; 20 Women)
WAIS-III Vocabulary (Raw)
* Age Difference Significant at p < .05; None of these variables
were associated with emotion recognition performance
• 36 Trials Total,
6 each of Anger,
• Verbal response,
EXPERIMENT 2: METHOD
In Experiment 2, we tested an exploratory hypothesis that
age-impairments in vision may partially account for this
finding. Fifty young adults were randomly assigned to
perform the same test with either typical pictures, or
pictures “blurred” to mimic age-related visual declines.
• There was a significant effect of Emotion Type, F(5,390) =
80.56, p < .001, Age Group, F(1,78) = 9.17, p = .003, and an
Age Group x Emotion Type interaction, F(5,390) = 5.78, p <
• Young adults found Happiness and Surprise easier to
recognize than the four negative emotions, and Happiness
easier to recognize than surprise (all p’s < .001).
• Older adults found Disgust, Happiness, and Surprise easier
to recognize than Fear, Sadness, and Anger (all p’s < .001);
Disgust, Happiness, and Surprise were all equally easy to
recognize (all p’s > .20).
EXPERIMENT 2: RESULTS
Participant Responses for Incorrect Answers
ANGER DISGUST FEAR SAD HAPPY SURPRISE
0.20 0.18 0.07
0.27 0.14 0.07
• When participants responded incorrectly, younger adults
were more likely to respond “ANGER” than older adults
were, and older adults were slightly more likely to respond
“DISGUST” or “SURPRISE” than younger adults were.
EXPERIMENT 1: CONCLUSIONS
• Overall, the age differences in speeded emotion
recognition mimic those found with static faces.
• We did not correct for possible response bias, which could,
in part, explain older adults’ performance on this emotion.
• Overall, the performance in Experiment 2 was similar to
the young adult’s performance in Experiment 1.
• The Effect of Emotion Type was significant, F(5,225) =
43.15, p < .001 and showed the same pattern as in
• Neither the Condition Effect, F(1,45) = 0.38, p = .56, nor
the Condition x Emotion Type interaction, F(5,225) =
0.11, p = .990, was significant.
Reprints may be obtained at agelabs.appstate.edu