Age-related differences in emotion recognition ability: a cross-sectional study

Aire Mill, Jüri Allik, Anu Realo, Raivo Valk
Emotion 2009, 9 (5): 619-30
Experimental studies indicate that recognition of emotions, particularly negative emotions, decreases with age. However, there is no consensus at which age the decrease in emotion recognition begins, how selective this is to negative emotions, and whether this applies to both facial and vocal expression. In the current cross-sectional study, 607 participants ranging in age from 18 to 84 years (mean age = 32.6 +/- 14.9 years) were asked to recognize emotions expressed either facially or vocally. In general, older participants were found to be less accurate at recognizing emotions, with the most distinctive age difference pertaining to a certain group of negative emotions. Both modalities revealed an age-related decline in the recognition of sadness and -- to a lesser degree -- anger, starting at about 30 years of age. Although age-related differences in the recognition of expression of emotion were not mediated by personality traits, 2 of the Big 5 traits, openness and conscientiousness, made an independent contribution to emotion-recognition performance. Implications of age-related differences in facial and vocal emotion expression and early onset of the selective decrease in emotion recognition are discussed in terms of previous findings and relevant theoretical models.

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