Emotion recognition deficits in the elderly

Susan Sullivan, Ted Ruffman
International Journal of Neuroscience 2004, 114 (3): 403-32
In two studies, healthy elderly adults were poor at recognizing certain emotions. In study one, an emotion face morphed to express a new emotion. The elderly were impaired when recognizing anger and sadness, whereas no differences were found between the two age groups in recognizing fear or happiness, or in a task requiring reasoning about non=emotion stimuli. In study two, the elderly were impaired when judging which of two faces was more angry, sad, or fearful, but they were not impaired when judging other emotions or when judging which of two beakers was more full. The elderly were also impaired when matching emotion sounds to angry, sad, and disgusted faces, but not to other emotions and not when matching non-emotion (e.g., machine) sounds to machines. Elderly deficits were independent of performance on a task requiring basic face processing (gender recognition). Overall, the results provide support for an age-related decline in the recognition of some emotions that is independent of changes in perceptual abilities, processing speed, fluid IQ, basic face processing abilities, and reasoning about non face stimuli. Recognition of emotion stimuli might be mediated by regions of the brain that are independent from those associated with a more general cognitive decline.

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