Age-related changes in the integration of gaze direction and facial expressions of emotion

Gillian Slessor, Louise H Phillips, Rebecca Bull
Emotion 2010, 10 (4): 555-62
Gaze direction influences younger adults' perception of emotional expressions, with direct gaze enhancing the perception of anger and joy, while averted gaze enhances the perception of fear. Age-related declines in emotion recognition and eye-gaze processing have been reported, indicating that there may be age-related changes in the ability to integrate these facial cues. As there is evidence of a positivity bias with age, age-related difficulties integrating these cues may be greatest for negative emotions. The present research investigated age differences in the extent to which gaze direction influenced explicit perception (e.g., anger, fear and joy; Study 1) and social judgments (e.g., of approachability; Study 2) of emotion faces. Gaze direction did not influence the perception of fear in either age group. In both studies, age differences were found in the extent to which gaze direction influenced judgments of angry and joyful faces, with older adults showing less integration of gaze and emotion cues than younger adults. Age differences were greatest when interpreting angry expressions. Implications of these findings for older adults' social functioning are discussed.

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